Rantoul facility ready to serve

Rantoul facility ready to serve

RANTOUL — At one time it was the non-commissioned officers club on the former Chanute Air Force Base.

It later became known as The Caddyshack.

The large facility now located at 1126 Country Club Lane is now known as the Multicultural Community Center. Many Rantoul residents don't even know its name. And those who do don't know its function.

The center is just what its name suggests — a facility for many cultures. Executive Director Martha Gonzalez wants it to truly be what its name denotes.

"The big plan is to have the center open to the community in the future," Gonzalez said. "By five years, we will have a huge center for the arts and for education of the youth and everybody in the community."

The facility is more than a day care and educational center. It already caters to more than just the migrant community and Spanish-speaking residents who live here year-round. Gonzalez estimated that 50 percent of the people served by the center are non-Spanish-speakers.

After the Head Start facility in Hoopeston closed, many Hispanic families moved to Rantoul because of the availability of housing in the former base hospital and other facilities.

Gonzalez began offering services to them in 2008. In 2009, she sought a zoning change to accommodate use of the former Caddyshack building but didn't get approval.

"We were renting classrooms at Rantoul Head Start" and in Champaign, Gonzalez said. "It was difficult to be split up."

The village later relented and granted her the zoning change in March 2009. The center opened in July 2010.

"Finally, the village realized the families need a place where the children could be safe," Gonzalez said.

The purpose was to be a licensed facility — approved by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, the State Fire Marshall's Office and the Department of Children and Family Services.

In addition to children enrolled in Head Start, the center offers services to migrant families. Meals are served there, with a nutritionist. Art classes and workshops are also offered to families, and staff can refer people to the proper social-service agency in the event of a crisis.

In 2011, the center received a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to serve school-age children ages 6-12. Prior to that, the center served only ages 0-5. Rantoul City Schools has since taken over that grant.

Migrant workers arrive in the Rantoul area in June, and the school district begins offering services in July only. Prior to and after that, the Multicultural Community Center offers services to migrant school-age children and their supporting families. During the 2013 season, it served 150 children.

The center also offers a community day care.

The building, which encompasses 19,300 square feet, is set up with nine classrooms. There is also a large fenced-in play area, a multi-purpose room and a licensed kitchen from which family-style meals are served. Gonzalez said a library/computer lab will also be added.

Each year, Busey Bank donates computers. Monsanto and Pioneer also support the center and have representation on its board of directors.

Board member Miguel Keberlein of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, who operates the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Program, said the center provides a vital function.

"I think the center is very important to the agriculture industry that operates in that part of the state," Keberlein said. "People may not know these larger companies that need workers, they recruit workers from mostly out of state, some from Texas. If they're going to come to work, they will need some kind of child care."

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