Faith

Ground is broken on Morningstar family center, a KC dream years in the making

Dignitaries including (center in light blue) Barbara Nelson, wife of the late Bill Nelson; Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, and Mayor Sly James joined Robert Willingham (right), pastor emeritus of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., who said the blessing as ground was broken Sunday for the long awaited Morningstar Youth and Family Life Center.
Dignitaries including (center in light blue) Barbara Nelson, wife of the late Bill Nelson; Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, and Mayor Sly James joined Robert Willingham (right), pastor emeritus of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., who said the blessing as ground was broken Sunday for the long awaited Morningstar Youth and Family Life Center. The Kansas City Star

The line of upright gold shovels, white construction hats sitting on the handles, looked like the symbolic setup of any groundbreaking ceremony.

But the turning of this dirt on Sunday signaled a construction project in the works for a generation.

“I am just overjoyed,” said the Rev. John Modest Miles, surrounded on Sunday by scores of project partners and well-wishers on vacant property at 27th Street and Prospect Avenue.

“Perseverance has caused this to happen,” he said. “We did not give up.”

The Morningstar Youth and Family Life Center, a 13,000-square-foot facility and a $5.7 million project, is expected to open in a year. As speaker after speaker pointed out at the noon ceremony, the project is a real-life lesson to never abandon a dream.

Miles, pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, is 69. How old was he when first began work to assemble property for the center?

“About 44,” Miles said, smiling.

Plans are for the center to serve about 200 people a day, including youths and seniors, with a wide range of programs and services including math, science and computer tutoring; jobs skills training; food and clothing programs; counseling; and sports programs.

Delays and challenges were many, including the acquisition of about 30 properties and demolition of vacant structures. Some properties at the historically troubled corner required environmental remediation.

“Thanks to all who worked for this day,” Miles said, nodding to the crowd and to those on the dais, which included city and county officials, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. “We want all to have the opportunity to be a champion.”

Miles praised banker and civil leader Bill Nelson, who worked on the project with Miles starting in 1990. Nelson, who called the family life center “a beacon of hope,” died in August.

“You stayed with us all the way, until you went home to the lord,” Miles said.

Others praised Miles — not just for his dream but for pushing forward no matter the challenges.

“He’s kept the faith, he stood the test of time,” said Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed. “Believe me, it’s not just about the bricks and mortar. It’s about helping people who have nowhere else to turn.”

Miles’ friend Frank White, former Kansas City Royals player and candidate for the Jackson County Legislature, called it a “wonderful day in the neighborhood.”

“It seems like an eternity, but I’m a dreamer and Pastor Miles is a dreamer, too. If you dream hard enough and work hard enough” you can make things happen, White said.

To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send email to eeveld@kcstar.com. On Twitter @eeveld.

How to help

The Morningstar Development Co., a nonprofit organization, continues to raise funds for the project and operations. Potential donors were asked to contact Roy L. Anderson, board president, at roylanderson@yahoo.com.

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