When a group of ministers and other interested parties began planning for a unified way of delivering assistance to those in need, they considered a "home run" to be to have their own building, have a full time director and have people moving in.

Hope Center is "80 percent there," said the Rev. Scott Powell, Hope Center Board of Directors president.

They have the use of a building at 314 S. Main, formerly occupied by Cox Communications, for the next four years. Agape Health Clinic, Pass It Forward ministry, All Saints Episcopal paper pantry, and a clothing ministry have made commitments to share space and overhead costs. Powell estimates about eight to 10 groups will be integrated by the end of the year.

They have not yet named a director.

The group has, however, set a tentative opening date. Agape hopes to hold its Dec. 7 clinic for low-income people without health insurance there on Dec. 7. A centralized location downtown will be helpful, clinic manager Jeanette Gaider said, noting that some people walk to Chandler Hall at Pratt Community College from North Main to receive care.

The plan is that Hope Center will be open for other ministries on Dec. 9, according to a recent newsletter.

Hope Center is an initiative of the Pratt County Ministerial Alliance. In the past, about 80 percent of that group's assistance has been given to transients, Powell said in a presentation to the Pratt City Commission on Monday evening. The ministers decided they wanted to see a bigger effort for Pratt residents.

In the spring, while updating a list of resources, they determined there were about 70 groups and agencies providing assistance in Pratt, but they were not well connected.

They also learned that the help they were giving to residents was not always meaningful. The Ministerial Alliance had a long-standing policy of paying $75 on an individual's delinquent city utility account. By the time they ask for help, some people are so far behind that $75 is "like throwing money in a black hole," a quick fix that doesn't solve the problem, Powell said.

The goal of Hope Center will be to fix immediate problems, as the first of three tiers of assistance. The second is to find short-term solutions, and the third is to teach life skills to help people get on their feet and lead productive lives.

Not everyone will want that level of help, Powell acknowledged, saying, "we're not there to help people who don't want help."

Mayor Jeff Taylor asked for a rough estimate of needy families in Pratt. Diana Harris, director of Pratt County FoodBank, Inc., said they had given out 96 boxes in September, more than in August, and more than a year ago.

"There is a need in our community for assistance in multiple ways," Harris said.

The food bank will partner with Hope Center, but retain its own location and board of directors.

The Hope Center board of directors estimates they will need $41,000 a year for utilities, insurance and a director's salary. Commitments by individual churches amount to $10,000 and special donations have added another $14,000 to the treasury. On Monday, city commissioners approved a donation of $550 per month as a utilities allowance.

Renovation of the building is underway, and volunteers are invited to help. A public presentation and fund-raising event is being planned for later in the year.