Noel Education Center

Noel Education Center

Giving our kids a better environment to heal, learn, and grow.

Fundraising continues for our Noel Education Center (NEC) (formerly the Education and Recreation Center) which includes the Gerber Education Program and the CIRCLE Education Program - both designed to provide the highest quality, most appropriate educational environment to meet the needs of our students. Cunningham serves students who need intensive special education services as well as therapeutic treatment for their emotional and behavioral challenges. Through exemplary programs and services, our youth develop the learning and coping skills needed to be successful in public schools.

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Our Thanks

Thank you to all who have invested in our students through this project. View our list of donors!

Through our Naming Opportunities, honorees will be acknowledged through signage that will act as a daily reminder to our students and staff that a community of people supports them in their journey towards success.

See a list of rooms within the NEC that are available to be named in honor or memory of someone special.

You can help youth like Jonathon

Jonathon* burst out of his classroom at Gerber and ran down the narrow hallway, yelling and cursing. Because of a history of abuse, he can’t always control the rush of negative thoughts going through his mind. Today that trauma manifests itself with a seemingly uncontrollable outburst. A teacher’s aide follows Jonathon, gently trying to calm him, but his anger escalates and his shouts echo through the small building. Soon other students react and staff must take time from their educational lesson to work with students on therapy methods to refocus their behaviors. Eventually students, including Jonathon, are able to calm down. But the learning has been interrupted and the time has been lost.

Youth at Cunningham have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their behaviors because of the traumatic experiences from their past. Small changes in their environment can provoke flashbacks and a feeling of being unsafe that results in anger, anxiety, or fear.

*All stories are real, however, names are changed and photos selected to protect the privacy of our youth.

You can help our kids realize education in a whole new way

Cunningham’s Noel Education Center (NEC) has been designed specifically for the special needs of kids like Jonathon. There is ample space to work in groups or individually. There are sensory rooms with equipment to help teach self-regulation and build motor skills. The acoustics, lighting, and furnishings in the NEC will be selected to meet the kids’ special needs. Cunningham’s educational, recreational, and therapeutic programs will be under one roof so teachers, therapists, and other staff can work more closely together on each student’s individual needs.

Cunningham Children’s Home has a proud 124-year history of helping children in the darkest of situations rise up to live a healthy, meaningful, and successful life. Even with aging and inadequate facilities, progress is witnessed each and every day. Just imagine the impact the new Noel Education Center will have on the future of kids at Cunningham today.

The kids at Cunningham

Our kids require more patience, more time learning life skills, and different approaches for their education. A well-designed school environment is critical to their success.

The NEC has moved our students from multiple outdated buildings into one 50,100 square foot state-of-the-art building designed specifically for kids with special needs.

The Noel Education Center is home to:
  • CIRCLE Academy Education Program (Urbana)
  • Gerber Education Program
  • Coach Lou and Mary Henson Gymnasium 
  • Beulah and Edward Schmidt Cafeteria

Our students are now in the NEC!  The total cost of the NEC is $13.1 million. Of that, $8.5 million was needed through private support and as 2019 began, we had raised $6.6 million. Fundraising will continue until our goal is met. Every gift helps!

Construction Photos

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For more information about the NEC, contact Tim Manard, Development Officer, at 217.337.9071 or by email

Learn more

NEC Construction Facebook Group (includes more photos and videos)