Shabbona church creates neighborhood center for community

SHABBONA–  Imagine a place where hot coffee is always ready and checkerboards and decks of cards lie on tables waiting for play.

Such places have become increasingly rare in small towns. Jim Allen, pastor at the United Church of Christ in Shabbona, hopes a neighborhood center the church is creating will bring that spirit back to the village.

“In small towns, people used to meet in grain mills and cafes, but the buildings have long since been destroyed or shut down,” he said. “These grapevines are disappearing from rural America.”

In October 2013, Allen and his congregation purchased the building across the street from their church with the plan to designate it as a neighborhood center. The building was Dr. Robert Purdy’s family practice until he retired in 2005. KishHealth Systems purchased the clinic, but by 2009, it was vacant.

“(The congregation) had an interest and they started talking to me about how they could facilitate their ideas. We had a lot of confidence that they would do something great with the building,” said Mike Kokott, assistant vice president of marketing and planning at KishHealth. “They have done it in other communities, and we look forward to see them work their magic here.”

Allen’s original idea was to turn the building into a day care, then a senior ministry, but decided it would best used as a place for people of all ages.

“There will be no membership, and it will be open to all religions and ages,” he said.

The neighborhood center will be open every weekday, with formal programs between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. A wellness program will offer free health screenings and nurse visits. Allen hopes to offer monthly seminars on topics like nutrition, finance, computers, and gardening.

The neighborhood center will also be a place for pursuing hobbies. Wi-fi will be available, and a computer to check email and video chat. The building has rooms for a variety of hobbies, and the basement is large enough for a quilting circle and has a complete woodworking shop with equipment donated by church members. The United Church of Christ Air, a new group that builds radio-controlled model airplanes, meets in the basement to build models and fly them with the RealFlight flight simulator.

“It’s a dream of ours to have grandfathers bring grandchildren to learn woodworking and build birdhouses and pinewood derby cars,” said Tom Greenwell, a member of the United Church Christ Air. “It’s all about having fun, getting seniors out of the house. It’s a great way for families to build something together.”

The church plans to open the neighborhood center to the public Labor Day weekend. Funds and volunteers are needed to help furnish and decorate the building. Those interested in volunteering can contact Allen at 815-824-2359.

“Really, we hope the building will be a gathering place for whatever people want it to be,” Allen said.

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