Since the 1990s, Whitworth students and faculty alike have shared their hearts and, in many cases, their lives in helping to provide Spokane’s troubled West Central neighborhood with hope and stability. The neighborhood, once known to many as “Felony Flats,” runs north of the Spokane River and west of downtown and has been home to some of the highest poverty and crime rates in Washington. In 1991, the abduction and murder of two young girls from the neighborhood hit close to home: Both children had attended a youth ministry program, Logos, at Westminster Presbyterian Church that was supported by Whitworth student and faculty volunteers. The event galvanized the community to act; among those who sought to help were five Whitworth seniors motivated to start an urban ministry in West Central with the help of other leaders like Whitworth Professor of Sociology (now emeritus) Don Liebert, Sandy Brockway, of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and John Frankhauser, of First Presbyterian Church. They found a boarded-up house on West Gardner that was due to be auctioned; Westminster Church purchased the house through donations and no-interest loans. Volunteers from Whitworth and local Presbyterian churches worked to make the house suitable for habitation within a short amount of time.
In fall 1992, the five freshly graduated “missioners” – Paige Baker, Mark McIlraith, Monica Martens, Kristy Parsons and Steve Watts – moved into Westminster House. They formed a partnership with Westminster Presbyterian Church, right around the corner, to establish youth groups for kids and teens, and they provided friendship and help to dozens of at-risk young people. Westminster became a safe house for families. “They know that the people in that house care, and that if there’s a problem, they might not be a solution to the problem, but they can be a first step on the road to getting help,” said Brockway.
Westminster House has continued, with dozens of other Whitworth alumni, to serve the families of the West Central neighborhood, and has built a clear point of connection and partnership between Whitworth and Presbyterian churches in Spokane that are committed to the improvement of West Central.