Donors, supporters and friends, including the Coach Lou Henson and Kendall Gill families, gathered at Cunningham Children's Home on Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23 for the dedication and ribbon cutting for the Rosann Gelvin Noel Education Center (NEC) and the Coach Lou and Mary Henson Gymnasium (Henson Gym). The special events took place in the 50,100 square foot facility.
Cunningham recognized several supporters including Dick Noel and his late wife Rosann; the late Beulah and Edward Schmidt; Henson and his wife, Mary; and Gill and his wife, Wendy, for their efforts to make the NEC and Henson Gym a reality for Cunningham’s kids.
The Education Center is named for Dick’s late wife Rosann, who said, “We can change the lives of these kids. They have been through so many difficult situations. Together, we can offer them a remarkable space and hope for a better future.” The Noel’s significant gift which more recently included a matching gift challenge provided Cunningham with the confidence to move forward with construction.
The Henson’s passion for the project came from their first visit to the gym at Cunningham in 2007. Coach said, “No child should have to play sports in this facility.” Soon after, they kicked off the Coach’s campaign with former Illini great Kendall Gill and his wife Wendy. Over many years, the Henson’s and Gill’s held an unfaltering belief in the need for the best recreational and learning environment for Cunningham students. When asked why they believe in the project, Coach Henson said, “The young people at Cunningham need and deserve our love and support. This project is about the futures of these children.”
To recognize Kendall Gill’s commitment to the project, Cunningham leadership named the court in the Henson Gymnasium after him.
The late Beulah and Edward Schmidt of Delavan, IL were also dedicated supporters of the youth at Cunningham. They believed that education was not only important but a good investment. So, the family took steps to ensure that Cunningham kids had what they needed for a successful future. That included their significant gift of farmland in 2014. The Schmidt’s generous spirit reminds us of another couple, Judge Joseph and Mary Cunningham, who gave away their home in 1895 to help vulnerable youth in their community.
The NEC provides space for two special education programs–Gerber which serves youth in our residential treatment program and CIRCLE Academy – Urbana which serves students who live at home but need additional support. These young people receive intensive special education services as well as therapeutic treatment for their emotional and behavioral challenges. The NEC is designed to provide the highest quality, most appropriate educational environment for their unique needs. Through exemplary programs and services, youth develop the learning and coping skills needed to complete high school and be successful in their communities.
The NEC includes 13 classrooms, a gymnasium, fitness center, kitchen, cafeteria, multiple therapy spaces for art and music, and life skills classrooms. Students began taking classes and participating in therapy in the new building in mid-January.
The total cost of the project is $13.1 million and of that, $8.5 million was needed through private support. As 2019 began, Cunningham had raised $6.6 million. Fundraising will continue until the goal is met.