Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2011, 4:49 pm
Working for tomorrow: King Center director sees its impact
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By Todd Welvaert, email@example.com
A good day is pretty simple for Jerry Jones, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Rock Island.
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Jerry Jones, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Rock Island, said one of his favorite things about his job is sneaking away to tutor kids who are looking for homework assistance.
His duties include working on budgets, grants, staffing and program development, but some of his favorite times come when he can sneak away from all of that and tutor a child.
"I got into business to work with kids, so if I can get a time where I can go tutor a kid, that's a pretty good day," said the Chicago native. "If I can talk with staff and come up with a plan that's going to be impactful in some way, those are great days.
"I'd never shy away from a day where we got a big grant to do something -- that's not bad. We have days where someone will come in and thank us for our efforts. When someone comes in who knew this place from when it started in 1975, and looks around and says, 'Yes, this is what it is supposed to be.' These are great days."
Mr. Jones has been at the helm of the community center for the past 10 years. He graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island with a major in psychology and a minor in sociology in 1991. He met his wife, Kathy, there, and they decided to settle in the area. They live in Rock Island with their two children, a daughter, 7, and a son, 9.
"Lifestyle was the biggest thing," Mr. Jones said. "When I was in college, I worked summers in Chicago, and a one-way commute took two hours. Here, that's never going to happen. We have a small-city feel and large-city amenities, and I'm not far from my family in Chicago. My wife has similar feelings.
"We also had the lower cost of living and an Augie bill in the offing."
As director, Mr. Jones is responsible for the daily operations of the community center and for carrying out the board's vision. Currently, that includes running an after-school program for youths, a drug-prevention program in the schools, and a summer day camp.
"We strive to pass on good decision-making, graduating high school and having a plan beyond that," he said.
In May, the center celebrated completion of a $3.7 million renovation and 6,800-square-foot expansion, which includes a new reception area, a new community room with full-service kitchen, seating for 200 people, and new administrative offices.
Mr. Jones said the community room has been used for meetings and conferences, birthday parties and family reunions. "It's been a great way for people to come out and see what it is we do," he said.
One concern has been ongoing funding cuts for programs at the state and federal levels. He sees firsthand the impact that programs like the ones the center provides can have on the community, and he would hate to lose that influence.
"We have youths come to us who are in college now and tell us they don't know where they would be if they didn't have a stable place to come after school," he said. "We serve about 70 kids on a daily basis -- that's 70 kids who are making good decisions and not creating issues elsewhere. These are kids. We service about twice that in the summertime, a time of the year when they are getting in trouble the most, and utilizing resources that could be better used elsewhere.
"Yes, these programs are a benefit to the community. We see it all the time -- a youth who was in foster care, who was moved three or four times, who is in college now. They said they didn't know where they would be without the stability the center offered.
"I had a kid -- well, he's not a kid anymore -- but he called for a job reference. He's doing pretty well, but he's trying to better himself. We had a young man who just returned from Iraq stop by and catch us up. Yes, the short answer is, these programs are a benefit to the community, but the long answer could go on for days."
Mr. Jones is optimistic most days.
"I believe people see (the center) as a valuable resource that has a major impact in our community, but I also haven't had the opportunity to live through such challenging economic times," he said. "I'm optimistic that we were able to complete a $3.6 million project, much of which came from people who believe in our mission and what we have done.
"That makes me optimistic, that people see us for what we can do here."