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Tri-County Urban League To Open East Bluff Community Center Site

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Tri-County Urban League President and CEO Dr. Dawn Harris Jeffries (left) and East Bluff Community Center Executive Director Kari Jones (right).

Two Peoria non-profit agencies will soon join forces to bring equity-based programs and services to people in the East Bluff.

Tri-County Urban League president and CEO Dr. Dawn Harris Jeffries said a desire to bring their services to other parts of the city led to a meeting with East Bluff Community Center executive director Kari Jones to explore a partnership.

“Clearly, we're on the south side. But everyone in poverty isn't just in the south; they're all over the place,” said Jeffries. “Especially with what we keep hearing about what's going on in the East Bluff: ‘there's nothing to do, there's nothing for the kids to do, nothing for the kids to do;’ I'm so tired of hearing that. So I just talked with (Jones) about finding a place in her building where we can deliver all of our services.”

Jones said offering some space in the EBCC to the Urban League just seemed like an ideal fit.

“We love the work that they do, as far as job readiness, helping people with career training, helping families at every stage they are in their lives. From birth through old age, they've got something for everyone,” said Jones. “They are looking to expand their footprint, so Dawn and I got together just a couple weeks ago and said, ‘Yeah, let's do this. Let's bring some of those awesome services to the East Bluff through the community center.’”

210817 East Bluff Community Center.jpg
Tim Shelley
The East Bluff Community Center building at 512 E. Kansas could be in line for improvements if their bid for a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant is successful.

Before taking her role with the Urban League almost three months ago, Jeffries learned a critical fact while running a non-profit mentoring organization called Girls Light Our Way: addressing issues of inequity requires reaching those in need where they are.

“What I realized, it's not like if they need mentoring, they can just hop in their car and come to wherever I am and be mentored, right? I needed to go to them,” she said. “You know, Jesus didn't just sit in his cave, he evangelized. That's why he had disciples, and they went out.”

Jeffries said the problems the Urban League aims to solve need attention beyond a single neighborhood served by a single office.

“We have a people in Peoria who live with a poverty rate and an unemployment rate that are so dire, sitting on your butt in the office does not meet deliverables. It does not change anyone's life,” said Jeffries. “Now, clearly, we do have a nice set of services that are available for those who can get to us. We do; we have some amazing services, and I'm trying to even expand what we do.

“But that being said, we can't just serve all people who deal with those issues of poverty and unemployment and all forms of trauma, we call it polyvictimization. So if it means that someone on my team can drive five minutes to the left or the right to make a person's life different just by taking it to the streets, that's what we're going to do.”

Jones says the Urban League will join a host of other community organizations already operating out of the EBCC, including the Boys & Girls Club, the Peoria Opportunities operating an affordable housing program, and the Peoria Committee for Economic Opportunity offering energy assistance.

“The heart and soul of the East Bluff Community Center is: we're not trying to compete with anyone, we're not trying to take on more programming than we can handle - with me as our only full-time staff and some wonderful volunteers who help with the programming that we do offer,” said Jones. “So we are all about partnering, collaborating.

“The groups that are already doing amazing work in so many sectors in the Peoria area, we want to work with them as much as we can and bring them into the East Bluff, directly into this space that we have available for them to use to provide their services to the community.”

Jeffries said the partnership with the EBCC is one step in her ambitious efforts to expand the Urban League and address inequity.

“With all the services that we have, and for poverty and unemployment to persist in the manner that it is, it means that we just have to be a little more creative, a little more innovative, and be a little more intense and intentional about how we service potential and existing clients,” said Jeffries. “We can't play. I did not come here to play; I came here to change lives.”

Jones said they hope to announce what Urban League services will be available at the EBCC in the next few weeks.

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