ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — With 1 in 3 children in Winnebago County reading at or above their grade level, Brooke Road Methodist Church is expanding its programming to help its growing congregation of immigrants.

The United Way of Rock River Valley helped the church, located at 1404 Brooke Road, hire a Community Center Manager to support parents and caregivers of children learning to read, particularly immigrants and recent arrivals to the United States.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve been growing our programs and partnerships by repurposing Sunday School classrooms and other spaces at Brooke Road United Methodist Church to be open during the week for community groups to use. From AA to Zumba, the legal clinic to the little free food pantry, Girl Scouts to the Bookmobile, and so much more, we’re building a real resource center for our neighborhood,” said Pastor Violet Johnicker.

Many of the programs at Brooke Road Community Center are in Spanish, and there is also a growing congregation with members from Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other African countries who worship in Swahili on Sundays at noon.

“Congregations are part of the permanent fabric of our communities; they are a trusted resource and often provide the services needed most in our communities,” said Julie Bosma, president and CEO of United Way of Rock River Valley. “Brooke Road UMC has excelled at responding to critical needs, and they know those needs in their community very intimately. When you start to combine efforts with churches, you can really have an important impact on the community as a whole.”

The church hired Kristin Cottrell, a Rockford native, to oversee the community center.

“Seeing the excitement for the center and the willing support already makes me so proud of Rockford. This community deserves safe spaces to learn and grow, and to teach us how to connect again after the pandemic. I am so looking forward to seeing all of the individuals and families coming together here, gaining a sense of hope, consistency and community like we haven`t been able to see in awhile,” said Cottrell.