Kennewick organization empowers people through the pandemic

KENNEWICK, Wash. – Throughout the pandemic, it’s been business as usual at Columbia Industries’ Empowerment Place.

Their specialty is helping people, but during a time of social distancing, they had to pivot to make sure they could serve others safely.

“Then we also realized the needs intensified at that time, there’s a lot more food instability, people were having a lot more difficulty with transportation, also homelessness became a more intense factor,” Justin Crume the Director of Mission Services said.

Empowerment place has people who can help those in need with everything from creating a resume to getting a bus pass.

During the pandemic, they’ve also had to get creative with their daycare, respite services that helps special needs individuals. To stay socially connected, employees hosted Zoom activities; online arts and crafts, makeup sessions and even Zumba.

“All the sudden we weren’t able to have large groups like that, it really effected these individuals,” Justin said.

With food insecurity rising during shutdowns, they also utilized another program, Opportunity Kitchen, to feed those in need.

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“We have this kitchen program, a vocational program, to help people get on their feet and develop skills,” Crume explained.

Opportunity Kitchen is a 12-week program for people to learn the skills they need to work in the restaurant industry.

In the past year, their cooks, like Kelsie Wilkerson, have served 8000 free meals to the community.

“So I get to help provide for them but then also say I was exactly where you are and I understand and just also be an inspiration to them which is really important to me,” she said.

When Kelsie came into the program, she was a single mother looking for a new chapter in life.

“It changed our life, it gave me a purpose and it gave us something to really grow and build on as a family which is really awesome,” she said.

Kelsie and Justin said the benefits of serving free meals has been two fold; more people have learned about getting help with Empowerment Place.

“We wanna connect them to resources, regardless if they’re a part of the Columbia programs or not,” Justin said.

For more information on Columbia Industries, visit their website.