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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Center Named for Slain Minister

October 16, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

Her name signified love and giving to the communities she served.

Now a community center has been named in memory of the Rev. Blanche Thomas, an 81-year-old minister who was found slain in her South La Brea Avenue home in July.

The 3R Outreach, a 4-year-old nonprofit organization based in South-Central, last week dubbed the newest addition to its programs for the homeless after Thomas, who had worked closely with the 3R program.

The Blanche Thomas Christian Center, located in a former auto body shop garage at 8854 S. Central Ave., is expected to open Monday. It will serve principally as a vocational training center and place of worship for the homeless aided by 3R (Reclaim, Recover, Restore). They will receive computer training and other instruction.

Through her small South-Central parish, Mt. Zion Churches United, Thomas worked to comfort the elderly, to ease the plight of the homeless and to stop substance abuse. Thomas is remembered for distributing donated food to the needy and raising funds for blankets to give to homeless people in the streets, family members said.

Thomas was found dead of asphyxiation in her apartment on July 25. She had been bound, gagged and sexually assaulted. Shortly after Thomas' death, a $50,000 reward was put up by Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden's office and television evangelist Gene Scott for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Police said last week they have good leads and expect to make an arrest.

The 3R's Blanche Thomas Christian Center is intended to carry on Thomas' legacy.

Through a tie with Orange County's Pacific Christian College's 18-month Excel Degree Completion Program, the center will offer college-accredited classes.

Space for the center was donated by one of the relatives of the Rev. Sonja Williams, who serves as co-pastor of Mt. Zion with her husband, the Rev. Calvin Williams. Sonja Williams is Thomas' niece.

The center has been given three computers by Chem Search, an El Segundo company, each with the latest word processing and accounting software.

"We're not going to be like other training centers that offer computer training with outdated software," said Sonja Williams, stacking books and packages of WordPerfect 6.0, Microsoft Word 6.0 and other software on her desk.

The new facility will be a boost for 3R, which the Williamses operate from an office at an apartment complex near the center where they house 22 homeless men and women. These 22 people receive counseling and job training there.

The use of the apartment complex was provided by owner Sterling Williams (no relation to the Williamses). The man was so impressed by Sonja Williams' work with his wayward son Rodney, whom she found roaming the streets, that he gave 3R a break on the rent so that the organization could expand its operation. 3R has a five-year lease with an option to buy. The Williamses pay $3,000 a month for the entire complex.

The Williamses have struggled through the years to keep their program together. Two months ago, the couple left their house of two years and moved into the apartment complex because of economic difficulties.

The entire 3R operation is running on an annual budget of about $100,000. Most of Calvin Williams' income from his job managing a Department of Water and Power yard in Venice goes to 3R, while Sonja volunteers full time for the program.

"But we're not doing too bad," Sonja Williams said as she opened a refrigerator door to reveal an abundance of frozen meats and vegetables.

For the most part 3R serves homeless people who have dropped in and out of alcohol and drug rehabilitation groups.

"When I got here in May I was in the (Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous) 12-step program. It wasn't working for me," said Valerie Howard, 26, sitting on her couch in the two-bedroom apartment where she's lived for the past five months.

Living in an environment that looks like a home has helped Howard put her life back together, she said. She now works as a beautician at two beauty shops, one in Inglewood and the other in South Central.

Information: (213) 754-0244.

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