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Community building 

& & by Rachel Roman & & & &





It used to be a microbrewery, but you won't find kegs here any longer. Today, it's a whole different kind of matter that's brewing in this turn-of-the-century red brick building on West Main. Not only has Global Folk Art found a new home in the first floor store front, where Birkebeiner Brewery used to be, but the building -- now called the Community Building -- is now ready to also house 13 nonprofit organizations such as Save Our Wild Salmon and the Kettle Range Conservation Group.


Jim Sheehan, former public defender and current executive director for the building's Center for Justice, says that the purpose of the place is to create a sense of community among nonprofit organizations and people who need a voice. As a public defender, Sheehan sometimes saw people turned down for legal cases because they could not afford an attorney, and that gave him the idea for a nonprofit Center for Justice.


"It's unfair that a person without money is not allowed a voice or resources," says Sheehan. "If anyone in a culture is oppressed, then we're all oppressed."


His ideals are evident in the Center for Justice's decor. Pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chief Joseph hang on the walls, with large quotes from the two leaders declaring the importance of rights for their people.


Sheehan's Center for Justice provides attorneys and legal consultation for people with low income and limited resources. Most of the cases are family law, traffic infractions and tenant/landlord disputes. Tavia Allen, an advocate for the center, says that many of the people the center helps later become volunteers because they want to give something back to the group that assisted them.


A great atmosphere has been created by bringing all the nonprofits together, she says. "Everything about the mood helps. We provide a jovial, relaxed environment."


Kell McAboy, the Eastern Washington outreach organizer for Save Our Wild Salmon, says she appreciates the comfortable atmosphere as well. She is the only staff member in Spokane for Save Our Wild Salmon, which has main offices in Seattle and Portland. She says working alone can stifle a lot of energy, but in the Community Building everyone is subjected to each other so it's a lot easier to keep going. She says she feels there is a sense of community and a high level of activity among the occupants. Many of her volunteers are also activists at the Kettle Range Conservation Group, so it is convenient for them to meet in one place.


"It's like a one stop activist center," McAboy says.


Volunteers are crucial to the existence of Save Our Wild Salmon. The nearly 40 members of the Salmon Task Force are volunteers who are mostly comprised of commercial and sport fishermen, conservation groups and conservationists. They are working to restore salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia rivers. The volunteers attend informational meetings, help out with events and also act as spokespeople dealing with the media and elected officials. Some have gone to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the salmon.


Likewise, volunteers comprise the majority of the staff for Global Folk Art, which is on the first floor of the Community Building.


Global Folk Art was the first nonprofit retail store in Spokane. Tony Allison, the store's project director, explains that profits are reinvested back into the store rather than going to a business owner or stockholders.


"Our store allows Spokane an alternative to global consumerism," says Allison.


Global Folk Art is a fair trade organization, so almost everything the store sells is produced in poor and developing countries. As opposed to in sweatshops, the producers of fair trade products work under safe conditions and are paid livable wages as measured by their local standards. Global Folk Art purchases only from fair trade wholesalers that are affiliated with the Fair Trade Federation.


The federation is a nonprofit consortium of fair trade wholesalers and retailers. To belong to the federation, fair traders must be ecologically sustainable, pay livable wages and have safe working conditions.


Sheehan developed the idea for a community building over a number of years. In order for the nonprofit organizations to all move in together, the building had to be renovated from one large room to multiple, smaller offices. The rent they pay is based on taxes, insurance, utilities and the size of each group's space.


Since the nonprofit organizations are located in the same building, it's easy for visitors to get a good sense of how many different types of nonprofit organizations there are in Spokane, their goals and different philosophies. The Northwest Fair Housing Alliance and Spokane Family Guidance Services also reside here.


McAboy says the Community Building is not a moneymaking venture and hopes the community will utilize the resources it's providing. An open house on Friday is designed to let people become familiar with the groups and the remodeled building. Sheehan says it's really simple: "We're asking the people of Spokane to look at what we've built for Spokane."





& & & lt;i & The Community Building open house is on Friday, Jan. 19, from noon-7 pm at the old Birkebeiner Brewery, 35 W. Main Ave. Call: 835-5211. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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