School worker leads effort to develop a community center

Dublin Core


School worker leads effort to develop a community center


East Urbana


Photo Caption: Janice Mitchell (left) with parent Elysia Monroe and her son Darrion Brown at what will be the new Neighborhood Connection Center on E. Main Street in Urbana on 2009 By Darrell Hoemann

Article: The Neighborhood Community Center, expected to open in November, will give students a place to do their homework and have fun, according to Janice Mitchell, the center’s organizer.

“It gives the kids a positive place to go,” Monroe said. “In Urbana, in our neighborhood, we don’t have any place.”

Mitchell, the parent-community outreach coordinator for the Urbana school district, said the center has been her vision for years. The building – on Main Street, east of VFW Post 630 – is owned by the Housing Authority of Champaign County and has been used as a warehouse.

A member of the housing authority board, Mitchell convinced Director Ed Bland that the building would be ideal as a community center. Bland said the housing authority purchased the building a few years ago with the idea of using it for storage, but the agency would not need all of the building.

“So, when Mrs. Mitchell approached, we thought this would be something that will benefit the whole community,” Bland said.

The teen center – which will not pay rent but will share in the cost of utilities – will occupy about 3,400 square feet, he said.

Over the summer, more than a dozen youths and other volunteers from the neighborhood helped clean out the front part of the building, she said.

Mitchell got the idea for a teen center 10 years ago as a volunteer working with families in east Urbana. A onetime community organizer in Chicago, Mitchell said her whole background is “personal investment in community.”

Mitchell, who is not being paid for her work at the center, said she is in the process of assembling a board of directors and applying for tax-exempt, nonprofit status.

She said the center will become a place where students can get tutoring and recreation, and where parents can meet and families can get information and referral to other resources in the community, like public health and housing.

Urbana Middle School Principal Nancy Clinton said the school district has after-school programs called Students Learning and Playing After School Hours. But that program is only available six weeks and there are gaps – two to three weeks each session, plus holidays and vacations – when there is nothing going on.

There’s a need to have positive alternatives, she said.

Urbana Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-5, said Mitchell’s idea is a model he would like to see in several areas of the city. He said the former Tri-Star building at 1301 E. Washington St,, which was donated to the city, could house a community center for the East Washington/South Lierman neighborhood.

“This is a very at-risk area of the city,” Roberts said. “I have learned by sponsoring two neighborhood meetings with residents of this neighborhood and the Scottswood Manor Apartments complex that they have many needs.”

A community center could be a safe place for youth activities, mentoring and “a place to meet friends instead of walking the streets each evening,” he said.

Mitchell said all Urbana neighborhoods need similar programs and she sees the Main Street program as the “first phase of neighborhood development.” King Park and the Carroll Addition in east Urbana would likewise benefit, she said.

Read the full story: The School worker leads effort to develop a community center.


Steve Bauer



The News-Gazette


September 7, 2009

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Steve Bauer, "School worker leads effort to develop a community center," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #201, (accessed May 26, 2020).

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