DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB) — A community center is coming to the Village of Depew, after a non-profit bought a building to renovate for just $1. And it’s been a true labor of love.
As Channel 4 walked into the Dom Polski building at 570 Gould Ave., a group from a local church also came inside to unload gallons upon gallons of laundry detergent. Then, the pastor handed over a $500 check.
Gestures like that aren’t out of the ordinary here.
The building and everything inside was donated, designed and built all by volunteers.
“Originally, they wanted to knock it down,” said Audrey Hamernik, a Village of Depew trustee.
Hamernik is the brains behind it all. Back in 2017, she and Pastor Debi Turley, of the Lord of Life Lutheran Church, started doing monthly dinners for people in the community.
“Every fourth Tuesday of the month, we feed the residents at the end of the month, (when) they’re running out of their (SNAP) benefits,” Hamernik said.
At those dinners, the women heard from residents about their needs in the community. A laundromat within walking distance was a big one.
“Right now, most of them do their laundry in their bathtubs,” Hamernik said.
So Hamernik took a dollar and a dream … and built that laundromat, and a whole lot more.
She formed a non-profit called DCAT (Depew Community Action Team) and bought the Dom Polski building for $1, which was a former Polish association. The building was last owned by a church, and that church left something incredible behind when they abandoned it.
“Although we got it for a dollar, there was a bank account associated with the church before, and it had $10,000 in it,” Jesse Nikonowicz said, the vice president of DCAT. “We bought it a dollar, and got $10,000 for buying the building.”
Jesse Nikonowicz is the former mayor of Depew and a mechanic. He took on the job of lead volunteer contractor on site.
“My father was a contractor, I learned the trade from him,” he said.
And Tom Sweeney, who owns Glassco Management, took on the role of lead volunteer developer.
And boy, did they have their hands full.
“If you can envision at the end of the scene of Jumanji, it was pretty close (to that),” Sweeney said. “There were animals living there and running through there. And there were trees and other stuff like that.”
Nikonowicz has been working there five to seven days a week every single week for nearly two years. And Sweeney has spent close to 1,000 hours of his time there. Both men haven’t received a penny for their work.
And while they’re doing the work, Hamernik is getting the donations.
Sefar Inc. donated the laundromat.
Fisher Price donated all the toys inside the laundromat.
New York Kitchen and Bath donated the kitchen.
Olive Tree Family Restaurant donated the bathrooms.
Twin Village Recycling took out a former bowling alley that was in the building and destroyed. That work was valued at $100,000.
Buffalo Enterprise donated a $30,000 retaining wall after the bowling alley was removed.
Five churches were also involved: Centerpointe Community Church, North Point Community Church, St. John Lutheran Church, Lord of Life Lutheran Church and Home City Church.
Boy scouts help there, along with students doing community service.
And each window in the building was bought for $300 each. There are nameplates on the windows, with the donor’s names.
“I could go on and on,” Hamernik said. “The outpouring from the community … this is truly a community center.”
When finished, along with the laundromat, the building will be turned into a community gathering place for those monthly dinners, a wellness center, computer center, clothes closet and more.
Sweeney said the work on the building, when done, will have a value in the millions.
“It’s my dream … it’s my dream to have this done for the residents in our community,” Hamernik said.
It’s expected to take about six to eight more months to complete.