SILER CITY — A stroll around downtown Siler City may look a bit different today than it did several years ago. New businesses are taking over or changing hands seemingly every month and development in the area has become the talk of the town.
That change is also afoot for two organizations that became staples of downtown Siler City by providing valuable services to families in need across the county. Both Hispanic Liaison and Communities In Schools of Chatham County are moving from their respective offices downtown to new locations.
The lease on the building the two shared on North Chatham Avenue, across from The Chatham Rabbit, was expiring and they jointly decided it was time to make a change.
For the Hispanic Liaison — which aims to foster intercultural understanding and empower Latinxs to overcome the challenges they face and make their voices heard in the community — the new office will be a permanent home. The organization bought its new building on 404 N. Holly Ave., the former office of Ward and Foust. After a brief closure from June 2 to 18 to move in, Hispanic Liaison will officially open its new office on Tuesday, June 20.
“This is a huge step to ensure our sustainability,” said Ilana Dubester, Hispanic Liaison executive director, in an email message to members. “We can now comfortably accommodate our community and team members.”
Communities In Schools, which works to surround students with a network of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, has moved to Siler City Business Park at 108 Village Lake Road. The new office, next to the Western Chatham Senior Center, is already officially open.
Dubester said negotiations and preparing for the move took up the bulk of her winter months this year. Since the decision to move was made in January, the organization did not have time to facilitate a capital campaign for the new building.
“It's a lot more space than we have now,” Dubester said of the new office. “Our office has been too small for a long time.”
Hispanic Liaison was housed on North Chatham Avenue for 26 years, so the change feels monumental. But Dubester said it was a necessary time for a switch because the cramped office space was preventing the organization from expanding. She says in the downtown office she was unable to hire people because of the cramped space.
Originally, Hispanic Liaison was searching for a place to rent, but struggled to find a proper fit. When they saw the old Ward and Foust building was for sale, however, Dubester said it felt like the right space. She soon got to work to convince her board, banks and other donors that the move was justified.
The new office has roughly 1,000 square feet more space than the downtown office, including a full lobby. It’s also on a half-acre lot instead of on a downtown block so there’s room for a backyard and more parking. The building was also recently renovated, meaning it was move-in ready.
“It seemed like the right time,” Dubester said. “Knowing the kind of growth that's coming to Siler City, and that in a few years from now, we probably couldn't even fathom being able to buy a building.”
The growth coming to the town was also part of Dubester’s pitch. The work they’re doing is invaluable, she says, which is why they need a permanent space with security for the future and unaffected by rent hikes.
While Dubester said there will not be any immediate operational changes to the work of the Hispanic Liaison, she hopes they will soon be able to hire additional staff and host larger community events in the new building.
“It’s going to be sweet to be able to take care of our own place in the way we want it,” Dubester said. “We're investing in the organization and its future, not in somebody else's building.”
COMMUNITIES IN SCHOOLS
While the Hispanic Liaison still needs to pack and unpack in its new space, CISCC has already endured the arduous task. Tych Cowdin, executive director of CISCC, said the move from the downtown home of 13 years was “an all hands on deck effort” from the staff.
The organization’s new space officially opened May 24, and Cowdin said the increased space is a good fit for the needs of employees and clients. The decision to move for CISCC came in consultation with Hispanic Liaison because the two were next-door neighbors in the downtown office. He said both organizations ultimately decided growing needs were not going to be met in the current space.
“Both our organizations have grown in the past two to three years,” Cowdin said. “There’s been an increased need for the social services both our agencies provide in the wake of the pandemic.”
To accommodate those needs, CISCC signed a five-year lease at the Siler City Business Park. Cowdin says long-term the organization would also like to own its own space, but it wasn’t feasible at this time.
“We're really looking to the future and hoping to build on some of this momentum,” Cowdin said. “We want a reliable space to continue to grow our capacity to serve more and more students.”
The methods and operations of CISCC will stay the same in the new building, with the added bonus of more square footage. Cowdin said the organization is viewing the change as a fresh start and a chance to reinvigorate its efforts in schools across the county.
“We want to foster that same feeling when you come into the new space,” he said. “Where our staff feels valued, and the families that we serve feel seen, safe and supported.”
As for the friendship between the two organizations now that they’re no longer wall buddies? They both say they’ll continue to partner and collaborate on important projects to meet the needs of families across Chatham County.
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