New Ken church, community center ‘developing relationships, connecting with people’
The Rev. Merissa Devries hopes to offer New Kensington residents a place to gather, collaborate and learn with a new church and community center in the former Eden Center space on Kenneth Avenue.
The church and center, called Zoe Community, held an open house Sunday to invite people to see the changes made to the building and give them a chance to walk through and ask questions.
“We’re really trying to encourage just developing relationships and connecting with people,” Devries said.
She said she chose the name Zoe because it means “life” in Greek. The church is of the Pentecostal movement, but she said it is open to people of all religious beliefs.
Devries wants to offer classes for children, teens and adults at the community center focused on the arts and technology as well as provide job assistance, such as help with writing a resume.
“I just see a ton of potential inside of our city, and I just think we just need a place where people have an opportunity to develop those gifts and to express those gifts,” she said.
The building was donated to Devries by the former head of the Eden Center, the Rev. Mitchel Nickols, who is the pastor of Bibleway Christian Fellowship Church in New Kensington. The building was gifted to him nearly 20 years ago by the Jewish synagogue that used to occupy the building.
He said he hopes to see Devries be successful in her community outreach and engagement.
“There are great needs in this community,” Nickols said. “A lot of kids in the community don’t have anything to do after school.”
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said he thinks the center will be good for residents.
“We will be supporting them in all ways,” he said. “Anything that brings people in the community together and also offers services, we just think that that’s terrific.”
He said it will add to the other community centers in the city, like the YMCA, the public library and the New Kensington Arts Center.
“People don’t realize the gems that we do currently have downtown,” he said.
Guzzo said community centers and engagement are part of a larger revitalization plan city officials have been working on.
Devries said it’s in her blood to do mission work, which she has done since she was a child. Her parents still do mission work in South Africa.
She looks forward to growing the church and getting programs under way for the summer while kids are out of school.
“Together, we’re building the community,” Devries said. “It can’t just be one person or one organization.”