MISSOULA — Three local organizations came together in July of 2017 to create a family learning space within the Missoula Food Bank to address local food insecurity while also offering kids an educational play space.
EmPower Place has proven its impact by families who say they can’t imagine life without it. Organizers say this multifaceted family learning center is extremely unique, and something you’ll only find in Missoula.
The organization is a collaboration between the Missoula Food Bank, SpectrUM Discovery Area, and the Missoula Public Library.
From art exhibits and historical storytelling time, to science experiments and a fully stocked library, EmPower Place is breaking access barriers, and giving kids from all walks of life a leg up when it comes time to start school.
It's also a physical extension of the food bank, which means EmPower Place also ensures the kids are well fed.
“Children, when they are fed, are good learners,” said Missoula Public Library director Honore Bray. “So to have food available and then have books and learning available to them all in one space is amazing.”
Monday through Thursday, EmPower Place is breaking down access barriers through its countless opportunities, but education coordinator Kristi Havlik says there’s more to it than just that.
“I feel this place is more than the rich programming and the beautiful place and the welcoming staff. It is a place for the community to come and connect and every day there’s a heartwarming story," she explained.
Kristina King is the face of one of those heartwarming stories.
A little over two years ago she was new to Missoula, and with no family in town other than her little boy, she was looking for a way to connect with the community. When she heard about EmPower Place, she figured she’d give it a shot.
“So we came and checked it out, and the very first day we showed up they were having science experiments and my kid was all about it, and I was like ‘well, this is really great.’ It’s an educational place, he can take small science classes and learn the basics before he’s actually in school," she told MTN News.”
As her son learned and played with other kids and began making friends of his own, King found a group of people just like her, new to town and looking for a support system.
“It was nice to meet other people who had that same situation going on and the same anxieties about starting and doing it all on their own with no help,” she said. “It was nice to find other people who needed each other. We needed to create a little family in order to make it.”
Now with two sons and a group of parents she considers her best friends, King will be the first to recommend EmPower Place to other families in town.
“Having somewhere like this where you can come and get a little refuge and let your kids play while you breathe a little bit...it’s great.”
EmPower Place is open to all kids and caregivers Monday through Thursday. Click here to learn more about specific programming.