Date: November 4, 2007
About: Monzel Jackson - Class of 1949
Redmon and Lee Youth and Adult Center Hopes to Revitalize Community
Harold Rudd sets out plates of fish sticks, mashed potatoes and carrots, and Valerie Maxie takes the tops off of two milk jugs, one white and one chocolate.
"What kind of milk would you like?" Maxie asks a young girl, one of about 15 children who just arrived at the Redmon and Lee Youth and Adult Community Center for a free after-school program.
The girl points to one of the milk jugs.
"Say it, don't point," Maxie tells her.
As another child tells Rudd and Maxie "please" and "thank you," she's praised for her good manners.
When the boys are called in to pick up their meals, they get a little too excited and run into the room. Maxie tells them to "go back and walk" and then she thanks the boys once they follow orders.
The children who come to the community center not only get a hot meal after school, but they learn manners, respect and discipline. They're also nourished with love, compassion and guidance.
After the children finish eating, they start on their homework. If they don't have homework, they're asked to find a book to read. Later, they may decorate pumpkins or spend time outside. Some days, they get to use the computer lab.
"Can we go outside?" a boy asks.
"Outside is a treat," Maxie reminds him. "It depends on your behavior."
Maxie, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, tells an older child how important it is to do her math homework if she wants to become a pharmacist or a doctor. The girl smiles as she opens her workbook.
"You get what you put in," Maxie tells all the children.
Crystal Young, director of the Redmon and Lee Center, says the after-school program for high-risk youth is just one small part of what she hopes is a rekindling of the center's relevancy in the north-side neighborhoods it specifically seeks to serve.
"We're trying to revive parts of what used to be and build a quality community hub," Young said. "There's so much that could come out of here."
In addition to programs that focus on youth, the center at 815 Elm also hopes to entice adults in need of education to improve their economic positions.
"The ultimate dream is for a place that's open all day, a place where people can come for job resources, social services ... something for the whole family," Young said.
For adults, she envisions career training programs, parent education, family development programs, and a program for senior citizens. For youth, in addition to the after-school program, she envisions career seminars, internship programs, music and sewing classes and opportunities for physical activity to help fight the obesity epidemic.
Above all, Young wants to center to encourage strong family bonds.
"It's about making a place they can come together and showing them the importance of family," she said.
Monzel Jackson, 76, remembers how vibrant the community center was in its early days and hopes that it can once again be a source of community pride.
Concerned citizens and parents established the Frederick Ball Center in 1944, and it wasn't until 1981 when it was incorporated as the Redmon and Lee Youth and Adult Community Association. It was named after its founders, James Redmon, principal of Lincoln School, and Minnie Lee, a community activist who served as its director for many years.
"We used to always go over there to the center, where Mrs. Minnie Lee was the director," Jackson said, referring to his days of youth in the 1940s. "That lady was fantastic. She was just the parent you didn't have when you were growing up. She didn't have favorites. She always would come up with something that everyone could be involved in."
Jackson said the center kept kids off the streets and out of trouble.
"That was our hangout," he said. "There was a basketball court, and that's where all the young boys that played basketball for Senior High School got their teeth cut. You'd go down to the basketball court and stay there until you couldn't see."
Jackson, who went on to be a standout player at Quincy High School and Western Illinois University and even played two games with the Harlem Globetrotters, said the older boys at the center served as mentors to the younger boys.
But basketball wasn't the only activity that kids enjoyed.
"On Fridays they had activities for the younger kids and on Saturday for the older kids," Jackson said. "There was a sprinkler in the middle lot by the center. ... They had horseshoes and badminton. They had stick ball, things like that to keep them active."
Dances and festivals would take place occasionally on weekends. During the week, children got help with homework, enjoyed various social activities and learned the value of following rules and building relationships.
"You learned how to respect people's things," he said. "(Mrs. Lee) would put you out if you did something you weren't supposed to do, like cussing or running in the halls. ...
"But Mrs. Lee was always there for you," Jackson said. "Anytime you needed companionship or a little extra love, all you had to do was go to the center."
He said the values that he and other children learned at the center served them well as they entered adulthood.
"Everything that I achieved in my lifetime started right down there at Frederick Ball," said Jackson, who studied psychology in college and spent more than 31 years employed at Electric Wheel.
The center remained vibrant for decades, but has had its share of ups and downs in more recent years. A lack of funding and volunteers has been an issue, and Young also said that there was a "lack of vision and leadership."
Last year, during the 25th anniversary year of Redmon and Lee, a new mission statement was adopted. Earlier this year a new board of directors was put in place.
Jackson is one of those members and he hopes they will be able to provide the leadership required for the center's revitalization.
Young is optimistic about the center's future, although meeting the goals is dependent upon funding. She continues to look for new revenue sources. Volunteers also are welcome.
"It's step by step," she said. "We're continuing to build partnerships in the community. We're moving toward a more productive, quality community center."
The compassion shown by staff and volunteers during the center's after-school program and the smiles on the children's faces certainly serve as positive signs.
Contact Staff Writer Kelly Wilson
at firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 221-3391
* Established as Frederick Ball Center in 1944, an outgrowth of the Negro Advancement Association.
* Incorporated in 1981 as Redmon and Lee Youth and Adult Community Association.
* Named after the founders, Minnie Lee, community activist, and James Redmon, principal of Lincoln Elementary School.
* In 2006, the center adopted a new mission statement, and new board members were elected in January 2007.
Redmon and Lee Youth and Adult Community Association is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth and families through outreach, intervention, prevention programs and services that equip youth and families with the tools that empower and lead to a better quality of life.