You could see why the Rev. Jon Ashley looks pleased.
Light streams through large windows into an area that might pass for a big living room in someone’s home or an open and sunny room in a coffee house.
Outside, a driveway leads to a covered area where parishioners and guests can be dropped off for church. Brick on the newly remodeled portion of The Presbyterian Church of Fremont matches that put in place decades ago.
The stately church has a new look – one that combines the contemporary with the traditional in an effort to make the building more open and inviting for those who come through the doors.
On Sunday, the public is invited to a dedication and ribbon cutting in the gathering place of the refurbished church at 520 W. Linden Ave.
The event starts at 10 a.m. – in between the 9 a.m. modern worship service and the 10:30 a.m. traditional service.
Those who attend can see the renovations, which are part of the church’s 2020 Vision Campaign, launched in 2014.
Through the campaign, the church raising about $1 million in pledges. Congregants also decided to use $300,000 from memorials and other funds.
About 85 percent of the funds are being used to improve the church’s building and 15 percent for ministry development, which has included hiring an associate pastor of outreach and discipleship to help the church grow in faith and numbers. The 15 percent also includes funding for outreach ministries such as the Summer Lunch Program and the Hope Center for Kids-Fremont.
Congregants are envisioning a Christ-centered, family friendly church that is multigenerational and multiethnic, which serves people and impacts the community, Ashley said.
The campaign extends through the year 2020 and groundbreaking took place for the building improvements about two years ago.
Renovations include a new main entrance on the church’s south side. The entrance now has a covered, drop-off driveway at the front door – with no steps. A vehicle can pull up into the driveway to let off passengers.
From there, the entrance leads into an area with a new receptionist’s desk where guests can be greeted as they arrive.
Just to the east of that entryway is a new gathering place with a large wall of glass windows that face the street. Other windows give guests a view of a courtyard in the church building.
The new gathering place has a coffee bar and a sitting area with tables and chairs.
“We envision using that space for groups within the church and also already have community groups signed up to use it,” Ashley said.
On Wednesday morning, a women’s Bible Study Fellowship group meets there.
In addition, the gathering place includes a couch and chairs are situated around a fireplace above which is a big-screen television. The TV is connected to RightNow Media which has more than 15,000 video Bible studies and children’s videos. It also broadcasts the Sunday worship service as an overflow or “cry room” for parents with little ones.
There are other improvements.
“We’ve also renovated the fellowship hall, which was built back in the ’60s, so it’s all updated,” Ashley said. “We added new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant restrooms and a family restroom as well as new restrooms in the children’s wing.”
So there are two sets of men’s and women’s restrooms, plus the family restroom, all on the main floor. Outdated
Church offices for the administrative staff were relocated near one another by the pastor’s office in the southwest end of the building.
“We also added a children’s playground in the west courtyard,” he said.
The playground has a playset for younger children.
The church, which is nearing the completion of its building improvements, also is installing a fire suppression sprinkler system in the building.
“We’re still raising money to cover that additional cost,” Ashley said.
Formed in 1873, the church will turn 144 years old on Nov. 23 and now has about 450 members. The church continues to look toward the future.
“The best part of this whole project has been pursuing a God-sized vision that has stretched us to pray and rely on God as we’ve pursued that vision,” Ashley said. “It’s helped to strengthen relationships and given opportunities for people to use their gifts.
“We look forward to helping our church family connect more deeply with one another and grow in relationships with our neighborhood as we serve needs in our community.”
A program coordinator at The Hope Center for Kids-Fremont is thankful for a recent grant.
And he appreciates some kind words about youth who participate in center activities.
This month, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation chose the local Hope Center as a 2017 Youth Literacy grant recipient.
The Hope-Fremont received a $2,000 gift for academic programming costs at the after-school center.
More than 2,500 charities applied for the Youth Literacy grant, with 960 nonprofits across the country being selected for awards, including The Hope-Fremont.
This is The Hope’s first grant award from Dollar General, said Lindsey Valla, awareness specialist at The Hope.
“We were eager to apply for this funding. The Hope Center is located right across the street from Dollar General in Fremont,” Valla said. “Employees at the store have shared with our staff on multiple occasions how much they appreciate our members’ behavior when they visit Dollar General. That’s always really great to hear and makes us proud of our kids.”
Jonah Renter, high school program coordinator at Fremont’s Hope Center, also appreciates the store employees’ comments.
“We’re very proud of our kids — for the way they go over there and act — and that the employees of Dollar General can see the difference between Hope kids and other kids that go there,” Renter said. “They can tell which kids come from Hope by their good behavior.”
Renter appreciates the $2,000 gift.
“It does a lot for us and we’re extremely grateful and humbled that they would like to provide something for us,” Renter said.
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $140 million in grants to nonprofit organizations — since its inception in 1993 — as part of its commitment to helping increase the literacy skills for individuals of all ages.
“Through our mission of serving others, we are excited to support literacy and education across the communities we call home,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s chief executive officer. “We hope the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s youth literacy grants help strengthen literacy programs, expand library collections, inspire a love of reading in students and make a distinct impact to enhance the lives of children.”
The Hope Center for Kids strives to faithfully inspire hope in the lives of youth and children through education, employability, collaboration and faith.
The Hope recently celebrated its 19th anniversary, although the second site in Fremont opened in 2014. The Hope-Fremont serves almost 100 students and young adults each weekday.
The Fremont City Council filled the vacancy in Ward 1 by appointing Linda McClain as the newest member of the council at their meeting on Tuesday.
The vacancy was created after Ellen Janssen of Ward 1 resigned her seat on the council earlier this month, leaving her seat and unexpired term ending in 2020 open.
Following Janssen’s resignation, five registered voters from Ward 1 showed interest in the position and submitted resumes and qualifications to Mayor Scott Getzschman.
“Typically in a process like this you have one or two that come forward, and in this case we had five,” Getzschman said in a phone interview with the Tribune. “They all supplied me with a resume and also a letter stating why they would like to serve as a city councilperson.”
The candidates included Mark Grorud, Michael Peterson, Shawn Shanahan, Dawn Weigert, and McClain.
Getzschman then conducted interviews with four out of the five candidates, as Peterson was recently deployed to Puerto Rico so he was unavailable to take part in the interview process.
“The interview process was very positive,” Getzschman said. “Everybody has different pros and cons and ideas for what they would like to see done for Fremont and the direction we would like to head, but at the end of the day everybody cares deeply about Fremont and its growth.”
Following the interview process Getzschman recommended McClain for the position at the council’s special meeting on Tuesday.
“She has a strong business sense, and she has a human resource background as well,” Getzschman said. “Basically she loves Fremont and wants to see Fremont progress and move forward.”
Getzschman’s recommendation was received by the council, who unanimously voted to appoint McClain to the seat.
“We are excited, truly excited about Linda taking over the vacant seat in Ward 1 and look forward to what she can add to the council,” Getzschman said.
McClain has been involved in various community organizations and currently serves as the Secretary and Trustee on the Fremont Area Medical Center board. She also previously served on the Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity board and the Fremont United Way board.
McClain also was previously a member of the board of education at Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha as well as the education task force for North Omaha’s Christian Urban educational Service/Sacred Heart School. She is also a friend of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fremont.
“I’ve always been interested in public service. Actually my early career was working in city and county government in the quad cities in Illinois,” McClain said following her appointment. “I’ve lived in Fremont now for almost fourteen years. I love Fremont. And it just felt like the right time to maybe step up and get a little bit more involved. So I’m looking forward to serving, and I’m very honored to have been appointed by the mayor.”
McClain’s first meeting on the Fremont City Council will be on November 14th.