Urbana Neighborhood Connections, Inc.

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On January 19 of this year, Neighborhood
Connections Center, Inc opened its
doors as a community learning center for
African American young people. It is
located at 1401 E. Main Street in Urbana.
The Center is the creation of Janice
Mitchell, who has been the Parent and
Community Liaison for the Urbana School District for the
last four years. Prior to that, she had worked with the
Prairie Tracks after school program for African American
students, and a parent, at Prairie School. Prairie Tracks
focuses on African American culture and the performing
arts, and takes students on trips to important sites in
African American history in the U.S. and Canada.
The new Center is an all-year operation. During the
school year, there is after-school tutoring for high school
students who need help with their
homework. On two Fridays a
month there is a 6 to 9 pm evening
program in which students are
helped to develop their social skills
through discussions of films and
books. Parents are also welcome to
attend these sessions.
During the summer, the Center is
open every weekday from 8 am to 5
pm. The day begins with a prayer
and breakfast, followed by a discussion
of current events from articles in
the News-Gazette. Political and economic events are discussed,
as is the weather. Then the young people work on
journals that can be on either a suggested
topic or one of their choosing.
At 9:30AM, the students are divided
into four age/grade groups: K-3, 4-6,
7-8, and high school. Each group is
offered sessions in reading and literacy,
math, and social and emotional
learning. Four university students
majoring in either education or early
childhood development lead the sessions.
They are part-time paid
The last session in the morning is devoted to a teambuilding
exercise that emphasizes mutual respect, cooperation,
loyalty, and teamwork. At 11:45AM, the students are
offered lunch. The afternoon consists of arts and crafts,
movie/TV time, a snack break, and
then some sort of outreach or recreational
activity, such as a field trip,
service learning, or swimming. High
school students are permitted in the
summer program from noon to 5.
There are only 10 of them, while
there are 67 youngsters from grades
K through 8 in the summer program.
There is a tuition charge of $20 per
week ($160 for the full 8 weeks) for a
first child, and half that for the
remaining children in the family. Ten
children who would otherwise not be able to attend do so
on a grant from the Local Area Network (LANS).
Several aspects of the center were
particularly impressive. First, and
foremost, was Janice Mitchell who
came to this project through a lot of
both volunteer and paid experience
with the Urbana schools. She lives in
the neighborhood where the Center
is located and she knows the children
and their parents. She had a
very clear vision of how an educational
program should be structured
for children of the different age groups. Second was the
large amount of space that was available in the two-story
former Harley-Davidson sales store and apartment above
it, and the amount of volunteer work that it took to make
it useable for this purpose. One of the volunteers in the
work was the head of the County Housing Authority,
which acquired the property from the former owners and
turned it over to the Center. Third was the generosity of
the two major hospitals, the VFW post one block from the
Center, and other people who donated furniture and
equipment that they no longer wanted. This is truly a
community center in that it brought together the efforts
the city of Urbana that gave it a grant, the County Housing
Authority that offered the property, the local hospitals, the
VFW, the Local Area Network, and private parties who
offered volunteer labor, furniture, and equipment.
For more information on the Center, call (217) 954-1749.

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