LEFT TO RIGHT: Karen Thomas, president and founder of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, Mayor Deanna Reed and Brenda Witmer, a member of Broad Street Mennonite Church, listen to Sarah Sampson, 82, talk about her memories of the church on Wednesday.

HARRISONBURG — Over the past year, Broad Street Mennonite Church members shifted from meeting in their Harrisonburg sanctuary to holding services in congregants’ homes.

During that time, the two dozen church members began discussing what to do with the building. On Wednesday, they announced they donated the church, along with a house next door, to the Northeast Neighborhood Association.

Brenda Witmer, who joined the church 30 years ago, said several organizations were considered.

“NENA turned out to be a perfect fit,” she said. “As we talked with them, it quickly became apparent that their vision for the Broad Street church building lined up beautifully with the earlier mission and goals of the church throughout its 75 years of existence.”

The church, built in 1945, is assessed at $131,000. The home, which once belonged to Roberta Webb, is valued at $51,000. Webb was a black teacher in the early 1900s and is credited for starting the first child care center in the historically black Northeast neighborhood.

Karen Thomas, NENA’s founder and president, said she’s thankful for the gift.

“We’re excited, humbled and proud,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the association plans to rent the building out for Sunday church services and hopes community groups will use the facility during the week.

She envisions plays and musicals being held inside. Eventually, Thomas said, she would like to have the facility serve as a day care center.

Mayor Deanna Reed remembers going to vacation Bible school at the church, which was started by Eastern Mennonite College students.

“It’s part of our history,” Reed said. “Everybody, all of the kids, came here for VBS.”

Sarah Sampson, 82, remembers bringing her children, including former University of Virginia star basketball player Ralph Sampson, to the church for vacation Bible school. Her daughter, Valerie Sampson, also recalls her time there.

“She still sings songs she remembers from here,” Sarah Sampson said of her daughter.

NENA has no future plans for the home, which has longtime tenants, who will remain.

Thomas said the two properties are the second acquisition made by the association in the last month. On Oct. 30, the group announced it purchased the historic Dallard/Newman House on Kelley Street.

It plans to convert it into a museum, library and headquarters for the nonprofit association.

Former slaves Ambrose and Reuben Dallard built the home in 1895 in the area, known then as Newtown.

The house once served as the residence of George A. Newman, a teacher and principal at the former Effinger School.

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6267 or pdelea@dnronline.com

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