By Brianna Rae
Next Saturday, August 20, the East Madison Community Center will host a celebration of its 50th Anniversary as a beloved, historic and important resource for Madison’s East side youth and families. Executive Director, Tom Moen, describes the Center as Madison’s best-kept secret, but he hopes it won’t stay a secret for much longer.
Starting back in the summer of 1966, as Maureen Arcand recalled, there were 300 kids under the age of 18 living in this small section of the community. Several parents, including herself, gathered to form the Wright Street Betterment Association in hopes of providing their children with positive activities through which to learn and play throughout the summer and beyond.
In recruiting volunteers and securing the basement of a neighborhood church, they began their humble beginnings, and by 1970 joined the United Neighborhood Centers, becoming a United Way funded agency. Throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s, the Center slowly acquired more and more paid staff, including a director, youth worker, senior worker, and janitor.
Their programming continued to grow and diversify after securing funds for a new facility, and they were able to offer social, educational, recreational, nutritional and cultural activities for all age groups. Since, they have steadily worked to raise more money and have added more spaces, including computer labs, a preschool area, an expanded kitchen, a stage and a gym.
Throughout the years, the Center has earned national, state and local awards and honors for its work with youth and families, the unique and expansive programming and workshops they offer, and the excellence and dedication of their staff. Their awards include: the Wisconsin State Youth Worker of the Year Award, The National Exemplary Substance Abuse Prevention Award, the Community Garden Award, Wisconsin’s Most Dedicated Youth Staff Award, and the Nutrition and Fitness Healthy Living Award, just to name a few.
The Center offers crucial resources to the youth and families it serves, most of whom are low-income or come from single-parent homes. It offers a fantastic variety of positive opportunities and support, both via programming and mentoring, and many of its youth go on to work for the center, excel in school, and attend college.
“EMCC has a wonderful staff that goes above and beyond for the community as well as youth,” said Sandy Xiong, a program participant from 2005-08. “It gives students a chance to express themselves, learn more about themselves, and give back to their own community,” she said. Xiong herself is a perfect example of the type of youth the community center produces – she went on to work as a youth staff member from 2008-14, graduated from UW-Madison in 2016, and currently serves as an EMCC Board Member.
Another program participant, Rebecca Fox-Blair, who got her start 25 years ago as the Youth Director for EMCC, said, “Because of my experience at EMCC, I decided to go back to school and become a teacher.” Today, Fox-Blair is the Executive Director of the Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School. “EMCC was my beginning,” she said. “It is a place I carry my heart. Congrats to EMCC on 50 years of touching people’s lives!”
For more information regarding volunteer opportunities, programming and workshops, visit the EMCC online at www.eastmadisoncc.org.
Photos courtesty of East Madison Community Center.