By Jennifer L. Warren
WAPPINGERS FALLS – It’s a gem that many are sitting upon, and Sherre Wesley wants nothing more than to attain the needed help to polish that stone so brightly it illuminates all those it impacts.
That precious stone, the former Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, or its more current namesake: the Founders Building, is located at 2611 South Avenue, on Route 9D, just south of Mesier Park, in Wappingers Falls. The authentic, nostalgic building, officially dedicated in 1847, was used for worship from 1967 until 2009, when a new edifice was erected, right across the street to serve the growing congregation, led by Pastor, Reverend Dr. Edward L. Hunt. Once idle, the Foundry Building almost immediately occupied the thoughts of various church members, who envisioned countless possibilities for its use, including; a thriving arts center with classrooms and a theater, educational after-school hub, a place for providing food to people in need and those facing food insecurity, an outreach with engagement initiatives for seniors, and a locale to house a range of community functions.
“This place is a daunting inspiration,” pointed out Wesley as she surveyed its interior. “We always envisioned this building would be used somehow; it has the potential to be extraordinary, as it is beautiful but in great disrepair.”
Wesley, along with many other Church and Board members, saw the beginnings of that potential take shape in 2017 when construction began and great progress was in motion. Those critical, beginning steps came as the result of grants from an anonymous foundation as well as a large amount of individual support. Unfortunately, once the Pandemic struck, momentum on the project took a huge hit as did its price tag once talk of resurrecting its activity retuned. Originally costing $700,000, the project has now leapt to $1.2 million, a venture that is slated to transpire in several phases. Already completed is strengthening the integrity of the roofing as well as removing old paint and woods. Now, most immediate on the calendar for the already handicap accessible site is to complete the downstairs renovation as well as getting the kitchen in a fully functional mode.
Wesley, who has resided in Poughkeepsie since 1989 as well as been a member of the Bethel Missionary Church since 1991, was a long time Director of the Dutchess County Art Council, and according to many records, the first African-American at that position. Deeply immersed in both her church and community, Wesley is also a former Trustee of Dutchess Community College and the Dutchess Interfaith Council as well as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Those experiences and lifelong passions have helped form the vision she, along with several others at her Church, has for the Foundry Building.
“I have a concern for the Church and the community, and this is a way of combining the two,” said Wesley. “The plan was always for this place to be a community building to serve the community, especially the youth, in a positive way.” She added, “I come from a family that has always been very concerned with volunteering, so it’s always been a part of me.”
Wesley and the many people involved in hoping to transform this “gem,” while preserving its historical beauty, into a finely polished piece for the community to enjoy for various functions, are intent on tackling this “daunting” task ahead, realizing that the “inspiration” it can provide to countless people on the other side will be nothing short of magical.
“If someone is interested in partnering with us, we are very interested in doing so,” affirmed Wesley. “There are many, many people involved in this, not just about me.”
To reach out to any of those folks for more information, to offer ideas, or assist with this project, email them at: RealizingTheChange@gmail.com.