Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

Cairo Association of Teachers

Cairo celebrates opening of new community center

Ashley Richardson
Daily Egyptian

Cairo - When the Cairo school board closed the doors of its junior high school two years ago because of budget problems, they knew one thing-they did not want to let the building fall into disrepair or victim to vandalism. "This was too good of a building and had too much historical importance to let that happen," said Dan Anderson, regional superintendent of schools. More than 100 people gathered late Thursday afternoon in the gymnasium of the old Cairo Junior High School to celebrate the grand opening of the new Cairo Community Education Center.

The community center, which has been in the making for the last year, will now be home to a host of agencies, including SIUC College of Education and Human Services, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana extension services and the Cairo Board of Education. Reginald Weaver, president of the National Education Association and keynote speaker for the ceremony, through constant applause and standing ovations, delivered a powerful message to all in attendance.

Weaver, who traveled from D.C. for the event, praised the Cairo community and school board for its efforts to provide educational opportunities and services to the children of Cairo. "There are going to be many times when people try to put you down," Weaver said. "But when you come together with enthusiasm, you will succeed." Weaver also reminded the audience that everyone is responsible in ensuring that all students succeed.

"You never know the impact you are going to have on kids," Weaver said. "We all have a responsibility to make sure these kids succeed in life." Built in 1954, the Cairo Junior High School was left vacant in 2003 when the city combined the school with Cairo High School because they could no longer afford to operate it.

John Davis, assistant scientist in the College of Education and Human Services, said for two months on Saturdays, he, along with help from the Saluki Volunteer Corps and AmeriCorps, worked to make minor repairs on the building, such as cleaning and painting. Coordinator of SIUC Student Development Mythili Rundblad said 52 students volunteered a total of 308 hours toward the project. Programs and services offered in the center range from a Boeing and SIU flight simulation center to adult and alternative education programs and an early childhood program. The Saluki Kids Academy after school tutoring program is also housed in the community center.

As a former Illinois public school superintendent, Davis formed the Saluki Kids Academy in 2002 to help promote education among at risk students in grades four through six. The program serves a six county, 18-city area, which includes Carbondale, Cairo, Murphysboro and Herrin. Rev. Donald Topp of the First Baptist 12th Street Church in Cairo said he is pleased to see the center open and supports it all the way.

"I think it is a wonderful thing," Topp said. "Anytime we can come together for our children, black and white, and make things work in the community, it's a wonderful thing. I back it 100 percent, physically and financially." All of the materials used in the renovation of the building were donated. However, Assistant Regional Superintendent Janet Urlich, said work on the building is far from done.

Urlich said the building still needs new flooring in some areas, doors for the bathroom stalls, a new chair lift and some window repairs. Urlich said the board is in the process of applying for a Rule Development Grant, which would help pay for many of the needed repairs. She said if they receive the grant the repairs can be done rather quickly, but if not, they will be a work in progress. "We're very far from having things complete," Urlich said. "A lot will depend on the funding that will be available. Should the grant not come through, it [repairs] will be very lengthy."

The new community center currently has seven tenants. Urlich said there are about two-to-four empty spaces available. She said they hope to have the building at full capacity within the next couple of months. The agencies housed in the new building, which lease their spaces, will pay for upkeep and building utilities.

Bob Swenson, assistant professor of Architecture at SIUC, said he would like to obtain a space in the building for an architecture program. Swenson said he wants use the program to explore and develop the historical and architectural roots of Cairo and southern Illinois, especially Cairo's connection to the famous Lewis and Clark expeditions. When Lewis and Clark began their expedition in 1803, they started on the Ohio River in Cairo, which marks the beginning of their map. Swenson said his research would help the community by not only educating children but also by promoting tourism in the city, which in turn would help boost the city's economy. "Southern Illinois history is extremely significant in the development of our nation and not many people are really aware of how important it is," Swenson said. "We're trying to develop interest as well as more knowledge about that history." Samuel Harbin, superintendent of Cairo School District No. 1, expressed extreme pride in the new center. "It is a very vibrant organization now," Harbin said. "It is a community center in a true sense. All the people in this building are committed to serving people." "I think we've only just started."