"[The I-90 freeway] separated the little neighborhood [to the north] from all the services on the south side."

Claudia Holtz does not live in the East Central neighborhood, but she has worked tirelessly to help some of its most disadvantaged residents. She is currently the director of a program called SPEAR (Serving People through Education, Arts, and Recreation), founded by Grace Lutheran church in 1968 as a response to problems created by the construction of the I-90 freeway. Grace Lutheran is, in fact, one of several churches with long histories in the community and once boasted a congregation of 600-700 with members who traveled from all over Spokane County to attend. These religious organizations were cornerstones of the neighborhood that served as informal community action networks, gathering resources and distributing them where they were most needed. In contrast to local, state and federal agencies, whose ponderous bureaucracies slowed their activities to a crawl, local churches were nimble, able to react as needs became apparent.

This was exactly the case with Grace Lutheran's SPEAR program. Just a few years after the completion of the freeway, it was clear that the part of the neighborhood north of it was deteriorating at an alarming rate. There were many reasons for this, but one of the most obvious was that I-90 had isolated the north side residents from community services they depended on, virtually all of which were south of the freeway. Some, like the library and corner stores, were inconvenient but not life altering. Others, like the community center, day care facilities, and the parks were devastating for these low-income families, who were stranded in an increasingly blighted neighborhood. The only church left on the south side, Grace Lutheran stepped in to fill some of that gap by providing after-school care and hot meals three or four days a week. SPEAR had such an impact that some families displaced by demolitions for the upcoming north-south addition to I-90 chose to move in together rather than lose the services it provided.

Although Grace Lutheran closed its doors in 2006, a somewhat scaled-back version the SPEAR program is still alive and well, providing essential support to the residents of the East Central neighborhood.

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