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Southside church looks to build new center to support community

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MADISON, Wis. – For its southside community, Mt. Zion Baptist Church is more than a place to visit Sunday.

“It means a lot,” said its pastor, Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen. “It’s a place of hope.”

Located in the heart of the community, Mt. Zion is also the heart of the neighborhood itself

“We live our faith, love our family and lift our community,” Allen said. “It’s a place of refuge. A few years ago there was a shooting that happened right out here, and the kids that were outside, they ran to the church. Their homes were closer, but they ran to the church.”

If the church is the heart, its services are the lifeblood.

“We try to do the best with what we have,” Allen said.

The first building built for the church on Fisher Street dates back to the ’60s. Allen can’t help but point out its age, showing the spaces where the church offers free drop-in therapy, a media studio for youth and an academic learning center that just reopened this week for the first time since the pandemic began.

Their senior service program has not restarted in person yet because of COVID, but the church still offers a food pantry in an adjacent building, along with services for those aging out of the foster system and more.

“All those things we have to focus on because everybody comes to church,” Allen said.

Though their foundation in the community is solid, it’s not the same story for the building itself. Allen said the old building’s foundation is unstable. The free therapy sessions are also quickly outgrowing their space, along with other services.

“We’re crawling all over each other in the current space,” said Dwight E. McDonald, who worked on the church’s new sanctuary project in 2004, which brought along an updated space on the property.

“We had the opportunity to move to the edge of the city. We had more space to do what we needed to do, but the decision was to stay here in the heart of the city in the south side,” McDonald said. “That has been fantastic. Even though we’re landlocked, we’ve been able to maneuver and do what we could with the property we own.”

He’s now working on the next phase of the project, which will involve tearing down the original 1960s building along with the house that contains the food pantry in order to construct a new Community Life Center.

“The goal is to put everything in one building to be the hub of hope, to be able to help those in need and help those in our community,” Allen said.

The 40,000 square foot facility would include a new food pantry, youth area, banquet space, fitness center, gym and offices.

The outside will change, but the church’s approach inside won’t.

“It’ll help us be able to have a larger impact on the community,” Allen said.

It comes with a hefty price tag: $9 million. The church is beginning its fundraising efforts.

“We definitely need the community support,” Allen said. “This is a heavy lift to do by ourselves.”

It’s a lot of money to raise, but the church has a lot of hope.

“I almost can’t wait to stick a shovel in the ground,” McDonald said.

There is already $600,000 available for the project, and Allen hopes to raise $4 million before groundbreaking.

More information on the plans and how to donate can be found here.

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