DECATUR – New Horizon Family & Child Development Center has been a relatively quiet neighbor in the 200 block of East Condit Street since it opened 20 years ago.
Rock music booming off the brick church across the street, not to mention the giant inflatable obstacle course next to the Wabash Crossing housing development, signaled Saturday that bigger things are on the way.
“We kind of want to wake up the community,” said Gail Evans, executive director of the Decatur-Macon County Opportunities Corp. “Even though we've been around awhile, we've got a lot of dreams.”
Among them are a new, central kitchen for DMCOC's Head Start and senior nutrition programs and a new wing for the child development center itself.
These, along with new roofs for the agency's administrative offices and Effie Oliver Child & Family Center, were the upcoming projects announced over the course of a two-day celebration of DMCOC's 50th anniversary.
The festivities began Friday with a re-dedication ceremony, balloon launch, awards program and reception at DMCOC headquarters at 1122 E. Marietta St. and concluded Saturday with a five-hour block party at the New Horizon center at 275 E. Condit St.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was among the dignitaries helping to cut the ribbon Friday.
“For someone who's just a little bit beyond 50, I think a 50th birthday is well-worth celebrating,” she said. “Particularly the birthday of such a good organization.”
DMCOC and 1,100 other community action agencies across the nation were formed under the Economic Opportunity Act, signed into law on Aug. 20, 1964. A decade later the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity providing oversight was superseded by the Community Services Administration.
The federal act grew out of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of war on poverty during his State of the Union address.
DMCOC board Secretary Carol Jontry said Friday that poverty is nothing less than a form of terrorism.
“It robs us all of hope, of vision, identity, it robs us of our spirit, our relationships and opportunities,” she said, “and that's not tolerable.”
Michael Lipowsky, 45, of Decatur said a lack of resources stood in the way of his desire to get a college education until DMCOC awarded him a $1,000 scholarship.
“I didn't want a handout, I just wanted a hand up to help me,” he said. “I put that money in an envelope and used it for gas going back and forth to Springfield while I was in school.”
A self-employed real estate appraiser, Lipowski not only earned a bachelor's degree in legal studies and business, he also went on to pursue a master's degree in business administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield, which he expects to get in December.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me,” he said.
The Decatur agency has battled poverty from the beginning through its Anna Waters Head Start program, which today serves 378 3- and 4-year-olds at the New Horizon and Effie Oliver centers.
Other long-term programs include energy, or utility bill, assistance; weatherization assistance and senior nutrition, primarily to nine congregate meal sites, such as the Concord, Hartford, Oxford House and Woods apartments.
Evans said DMCOC currently uses the kitchen at the Concord and another at its main offices to make its meals and hopes to replace them with a centralized kitchen at the New Horizon center.
Expansion would likely occur south of the center, toward Orchard street and between Water and Warren streets.
That grassy area served as the stage Saturday for a presentation by the Decatur Fire Department also also a K-9 demonstration by Macon County sheriff's deputy Joe Mannix.
Six-year-old Kameron Sleet was the lucky child Mannix chose to hold his car keys for several minutes then toss them into the grass for Athos, his 4 1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois, to find.
“I liked him,” Kameron said. “I wasn't scared.”
Three sisters were among the early arrivals Saturday at DMCOC's Friends and Family Fun Day and enjoyed trying their hand at more than a half-dozen lawn games.
Adriana Holloway, 11, said she liked all of them equally, but Martaaza Ellen, 8, expressed a preference for the inflatable obstacle course. “I been on it three times already,” she said.
Big sister Jakiya Harris, 13, said the food, which included hot dogs and popcorn, were her favorite.
“I can't wait to eat some Cheetoes,” she said. “I like Flamin' Hot.”