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New executive director brings a passion for service to the East Bluff Community Center

Jenny Winne started her new role as executive director of the East Bluff Community Center in May 2023.
Collin Schopp
Jenny Winne started her new role as executive director of the East Bluff Community Center in May 2023.

The East Bluff Community Center has new leadership at the helm. The non-profit organization at 512 E. Kansas St. offers a variety of programs, activities and services to boost the sense of community in one of Peoria’s lowest income neighborhoods.

Jenny Winne took over as executive director on May 22. She said her first two months have been about conquering the new position’s learning curve and building relationships.

“Most often I've been, in the last few months, talking with the community, being at our food pantry, being at our basketball programs,” Winne said. “And talking to the kids, talking to our seniors, talking to our adults in the community about what they want to see come into the East Bluff Community Center.”

Winne said one of the most pressing needs is a solution to the area’s food desert, which is an area without a grocery store or nearby access to fresh produce. The 2018 closure of a Wisconsin Avenue Kroger severely limited those options.

Peoria families can come to the center once a month on Saturdays and get supplies from their food bank.

“We used to be able to serve them twice a month in the community,” Winne said. “But now, since everything has gotten kind of more expensive, and the world is just more expensive. Now we've had to cut it back to once a month.”

The service aspect of Winne’s role at East Bluff Community Center is extremely important to her. She said the interest in service started with her last job at the Peoria convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception.

“Well, that job turned into a passion and a mission in my life,” Winne said.

After more than five years at the convent, Winne said the position at East Bluff Community Center appeared “out of the blue.” After a conversation on the phone with East Bluff Community Center Board President Tim Cunningham, she felt a new calling.

“I thought to myself, it was probably time for me to help more than 25 women,” she said.

Among Winne’s other projects at the community center is a reworking of their youth program offerings, with more opportunities focused on learning trades.

“The group that we’re going to put together can consist of between 13 and 17 year old boys and girls,” she said. “And they can come in and each week we bring in a new trade, an electrician will come in and demonstrate.”

She said the program is planned to start after Labor Day and may eventually include field trips to area workplaces.

Another upcoming program focuses on the senior community in the east bluff. A Matter of Balance brings together area seniors with Carle Health’s nursing program. Seniors will learn about methods to stay connected with their community and safe while living alone over eight two hour sessions in the community center’s gym.

That program starts August 22.

In addition to their own programs, the community center also makes space for organizations like Peoria Opportunities and the Boys and Girls Club throughout the three story facility. Winne said the building was formerly the St. Bernard Catholic School.

“That building is 100 years old,” she said. “So we have 100-year problems in that building, but it's thriving, and we've tried to rebrand it and kind of make it fun.”

Winne sees the community center’s place in the wider network of Peoria-area nonprofits as providing a supportive space in the East Bluff. She encourages anyone struggling in the neighborhood to come into the center and speak with staff.

“I know how hard that is when you're trying to do something and they continually just say: ‘well, this is the wrong office. Sorry, this is the wrong office,’” she said. “So we have always taken the approach that, if you come into our building, we'll try to help you any way we can.”

There are a few other events coming up, including the annual center’s annual 5k race Run the Bluff on October 14th. You can find more information on the event and the programs mentioned in this article here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.