It’s Feel Good Thursday at the Sheldon Community Center, and for the staff of the center, that means a special treat. While most of the employees are still filing in to work, behavioral specialist Kevin Leonard is hard at work in the kitchen whipping up one of his specialties: a cinnamon cake that is to die for.
Leonard casually tosses in copious amounts of cinnamon and sugar into a bowl of pancake mix and a few other ingredients, while talking about the significance of the day.
“Feel Good Thursday is something we do every so often, which gives everyone a chance to show everyone else that they are appreciated,” he says. “We all make some food and it’s good because if you’re having a bad morning you can come in, get your coffee, get your breakfast and know your coworkers appreciate what you’re doing.”
As Leonard’s coworkers meander in, they all come to check his progress, each one as excited as the next to taste his famous dish. Recreational leaders Balli Notre and Anthony Mancusso stand on the opposite side of the counter from Leonard and watch him work his magic.
“You can’t leave until you try it,” says Notre. Her coworkers all agree that her advice is well taken. The Sheldon Community Center provides the Cal Young neighborhood of Eugene, Ore., with a place to come together and feel connected. The center offers a lot of different activities for all ages, including childcare, after school programs and adult fitness classes. The Sheldon Pool also sits adjacent to the center, and the pool staff and the community center staff work together to provide a place for people to come work out and meet other members of the community.
The pool offers many classes, including water aerobics, and opens up the pool to the center’s childcare program on a regular basis. The partnership is something that goes back a long time.
The center has programs for children ages 2-11 during the school year and 2-13 during the summer. It gives kids a safe place to go after school and also offers a lot of fun activities for them once they get there. The program claims that it teaches children healthy habits in a safe environment.
“We’re part of a network that’s keeping kids safe and keeping kids active,” says Senior Program Supervisor Kim McManus. “We serve 200-300 kids, and they’re safe after school, they’re with adults who care about them and we’re helping them grow up and be a part of the community.”
McManus has worked at the center since 1995, when she began as a volunteer. Soon after, she was able to get a permanent job with the city.
“It’s really my dream job. I supervise 40 amazing people and I just love it,” she says.
The center’s large facility also offers a central meeting place for the Cal Young neighborhood to come together. The center hosts church services on Sunday and multiple martial arts classes per week. Most evenings there are groups, like the Eugene Police Department that rent out the space for meetings. All of these services bring in revenue for the center and are part of what keeps it afloat.
The Sheldon Center also puts on a lot of events outside the friendly confines of the center. One of the biggest events that the center does throughout the year is the “Starting Block,” a series of youth-oriented tents at University of Oregon track meets. Since 2006, the center has partnered with the UO and the Oregon Track Club to make the event a possibility. On a rainy Thursday in Eugene, McManus staffs both tents in the southeast corner of Hayward Field, as the 2011 NCAA West Preliminary Rounds go on around her.
“This is a youth area where they get to try different track events,” McManus says. “It gives kids a chance to try to roll a shot-put, try to jump over a hurdle, and then the other part of it is to educate people about the legacy of Track Town, since we are Track Town USA.” (See sidebar for more on McManus and the “Starting Block.”)
The event uses six tents and has full running lanes for kids to try. The “Starting Block” has been a popular addition to Hayward Field, and it will also be at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June. McManus will play a huge roll in putting the event on in June, as well as at next year’s U.S. Olympic Trials, where the event will expand even more.
“At the Olympic Trials we’ll have a much expanded version and so that’s a really fun experience. We’ll have electronic games and activities and things like that,” McManus says.
Part of the center’s role in the Cal Young neighborhood is developing relationships with families in the community. Because the center serves almost 300 children, a lot of parents come into the center each day, making it important to build quality relationships with parents and other members of the community.
Shannon Whitney enrolls her 3-year-old daughter in the center’s daycare program and loves the activities and services the center has provided her with. “The center’s programs let me drop my daughter off before work and I know she’ll be in good hands,” says Whitney. “Plus, there are a lot of other services provided by the center for members of the community. They have a lot of fun activities for families, carnivals, relay races, things like that.”
At the center, the staff is all about having fun.
“Part of my job is just hanging out with the kids. It’s a lot of fun,” Mancusso says. “It’s just nice being able to give them an outlet. Plus, it’s kind of an outlet for us because we can just hang out with them and have a good time.”
Employees come from a variety of different backgrounds. Leonard was a four-sport star athlete at Churchill High School in Eugene, while Notre immigrated to the United States from Mumbai. Mancusso is a graduate of Sheldon High School and has worked at the center for three years. Yet despite their differences, they all share one common goal: to serve the community.
“We serve not just young kids, but serve high school kids and we serve adults,” Leonard said. “We do a lot of volunteer work through the high school, so we serve a wide range of people here.”
But since it is Feel Good Thursday, Leonard has someone else to serve, too: his coworkers. The oven dings and Leonard takes his masterpiece from the oven, putting the finishing touches on the cake by drowning it in melted butter. He cuts large slices out of the cake and begins handing out plates to anyone in range, including parents coming in to drop their children off. Just like everything else with the center, the cake doesn’t disappoint, and it helps cement the relationships that the staff at the center has worked so hard to build with the community.
As the hankering for cinnamon cake subsides, the center’s staff mingle and chat with parents and each other. The setting is something that is very familiar to the center’s employees, and something that Leonard loves about his job.
“We get to communicate with so many different types of people. It makes it a special place to work,” he says. “It’s really cool.”
(Note: to view the accompanying photo story, click here.)