This past holiday season a coworker and I set out to give back to our community by volunteering our time at the NFL Alumni Association Madison Chapter’s annual Holiday Party. Our job was pretty simple: wear Santa hats, smile big, and help guide a bunch of great kids from station to station of fun holiday-themed activities. Little did I know that I would be emotionally drawn into my group not only because of the amazing kids, but also because of the kind and nurturing nature each of the leaders, Brian, Ray Ray, and Tracey, had for every single child that was in their afterschool group.
A few weeks later and I couldn’t get the afterschool group out of my mind. I wanted to find a way we could help some of the kids experience something that every kid should experience, the amazing feeling of having a shiny brand new bike! So for this year’s Schwinn’s Random Acts of Kindness Day we decided to give 12 children who really deserve or need a bicycle that feeling of freedom and indescribable joy of getting a new bike! (see last year’s Schwinn RAK’D here)
But first I had to find them. All I knew was that the kids were part of “Lussier” pronounced “Loo sure.” After a few Google searches and misspelled leads I found them; Lussier Community Education Center in Madison, WI! I sent them an email, and a week later I was walking through the certified green building that is the Lussier Community Education Center (LCEC).
From the 1970’s until the early 2000’s the LCEC was run out of converted apartments. Volunteers worked out of these apartments to provide children’s activities, food assistance, and employment assistance for adults with the help of other nearby community groups, churches, and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). Still, the group of apartments never really felt like a real community center. In 2001 discussion for a new building began in earnest, and after long negotiations, fundraising, and a state law change the Community Center was strategically built right on the school grounds of Jefferson Middle School and Memorial High School.
Now that they had the building, the LCEC was able to expand upon their goals for the Center and do more for the community than ever before.
While walking through the rooms of LCEC and hearing about everything that they had to offer their community, I realized that the LCEC really has room for everyone. I think that is what sets it apart from any other Community Centers I have been to. Paul, LCEC’s Executive Director, said that it was important after the building was built to really think about what would make it most efficient and important to the largest amount of people. This is something they do amazingly! Not only does the LCEC offer afterschool programs to children of all ages, classes to English language learners, programs to assist adults with finding a job, and food pantry initiatives, they also offer more recreational and fun opportunities for the community as well. There is a gym that in one hour can have a group of high school boys playing basketball, and in the next hour have a group of women doing yoga! There are kids making music in the recording studio, the youngest of children playing and learning with a local agency, and soon there will be an opportunity for kids to enjoy an outdoor adventure club and learn more about the natural world around them!
In addition to all of these goings-on and groups passing back and forth through LCEC, the community comes together as a whole each month at a complementary Community Dinner with food, a theme and an event with a message all wrapped into one celebration of another month of doing what communities should be doing, supporting one another.
Once in a while LCEC staff will get questioned about whether the Center is “trying to be all things to all people.” But the thing about the LCEC is that they take their mission – building community, creating opportunities, enriching education – very seriously. And one of the most important kinds of opportunities they create are chances for people to share their gifts. With this mindset they can easily connect people in creative ways to make great things happen. For instance there came a time when a local Optimist Club wanted to hold their breakfasts at LCEC and wanted them catered. Well, the LCEC had a kitchen and a strong relationship with the vocational teachers at the high school next door. They were able to bring the two together and create a symbiotic relationship that resulted in employment for young adults with disabilities and an opportunity for the Optimist Club to contribute to its mission through where they hold their breakfast.
The LCEC is not afraid to dream big and break the common mold, and that is what makes them special. After all what community center do you know that is creating a radio station to broadcast from its facility? Yet after meeting the people who call the LCEC a home away from home it doesn’t surprise me one bit!
The kids who will be receiving the 12 brand new Schwinn bikes, helmets, and locks will be finding out shortly, so keep an eye out in the coming weeks for an update on both the LCEC and Schwinn’s Random Acts of Kindness bikes for 2015!
Check out the video below to learn more about Lussier Community Education Center