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'Our goal is to change what's going on here': Hickman Community Center to reopen in Rock Island's west end

'Our goal is to change what's going on here': Hickman Community Center to reopen in Rock Island's west end

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Lonnie and Constance Westerfield have a detailed plan. Lonnie can tell you what is envisioned for every single part of the building at 815 9th St., Rock Island, as he walks through it.

The Hickman Community Center is coming back to life.

The Westerfields of Rock Island bought the building earlier this year from the Rock Island Housing Authority, who had used it as a maintenance building since 2005.

Lonnie, 52, and Constance Westerfield, 46, have been working with a team of companies to renovate it to return it to what it once was for the west-end of Rock Island. They looked at other sites but are thankful that they held off and are bringing the Hickman Center back.

“Our goal is to change what’s going on here,” Lonnie Westerfield said of the area.

A few blocks away, balloons and other items are gathered into a makeshift memorial to a recent shooting victim. Rock Island's population is aging and growing smaller, but more diverse, according to census data. According to the city's website, 18.2% of its population is Black. The west end, which includes the Longview, Old Chicago and Douglas Park neighborhoods, has become run down over the years and experiences poverty and crime.

“What we’re trying to do is build up the community and build up young men and put them in the best position we can. We’re trying to put leadership in the community.”

The goal is to have all of the renovation completed in weeks, but a grand opening won't happen until the situation with the new coronavirus improves, Westerfield said.

Two new basketball backboards with rims and nets hang from each end of the interior, above a fresh layer of concrete donated by Goetz Concrete. Westerfield’s 14-year-old son, Kyle, sank the first basket.

Restrooms are in the process of a makeover with the help of A+ Plumbing.

Westerfield envisions the men’s restroom paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, a star in the National Basketball Association for the Los Angeles Lakers who died in a helicopter crash earlier this year. The women’s restroom will pay tribute to Gianna Bryant, Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter who also died in the crash.

A fundraiser is underway on Westerfield’s basketball program website — lonnierayselite.com — for the roof project, which will include replacing wood that termites had enjoyed over the years.

Westerfield and Martha Spears, co-owner of A+ Plumbing, remember coming to the Hickman Community Center as kids to watch bands play and attend parties, among other activities. Earl Hickman opened the concrete-block building in the 1960s as a community center hosting weddings, dances, church services and basketball games.

“This was the first Black-owned youth center in the whole Quad-Cities area,” Westerfield said. “This is a big part of the history of Rock Island.”

“For me, this area was like a village, and that’s what this new center is going to provide,” Spears said. “This is a staple for this area.”

But it’s not just about a basketball gym, which will have a fresh floor installed in the coming days, or a hoops program.

“Basketball is what gets their attention,” Westerfield said.

Sports bring in area kids, he said, who can then sign up for financial literacy and/or nutritional classes that will be offered. Kids won’t play if they fall behind on their grades.

A grassy area behind the building is also part of the lot, and a hoped-for future expansion may add more space for basketball and classrooms. Some space would be dedicated to a garden where food will be grown as part of the nutritional classes.

“We got to crawl first. We’re just crawling,” Constance Westerfield said.

Lonnie Westerfield has plans to continue a weekly neighborhood walk to meet area residents and to pick up trash. The center will not tolerate cursing or alcohol or drug use. But that goes back to the main focus of this mission: the kids.

“Our goal is to change what’s going on here,” Westerfield said.

“It’s right in the heart of Rock Island. We can connect with Rock Island and the kids,” he said.

Westerfield doesn’t view a new Hickman Community Center as his or his wife’s.

“It’s the community’s.”

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