Empire attorney Lea Ann Sterling grew tired of driving her children, Amelie and Daniel, back and forth to basketball practice at Glen Lake Schools when a perfectly good gymnasium in the Empire Schoolhouse sat vacant at the corner of M-22 and M-72, in the heart of Empire. So she began to dream.
“My dream,” said Sterling “is that (the schoolhouse) would be a place for classes — all kinds of art classes, physical activity classes, nutrition classes, organizational meetings and any clubs or groups who wanted to meet and hold events like a Holiday Potluck dinner or other community events. “ She envisions team sports, basketball leagues, open gyms for kids to play, ping pong, and volleyball — all in one central location.
“I’m just one person,” continued Lea Ann Sterling, “but I think many people share my dream. My dream has long been for the old school to be a community center.”
Sterling’s dream and others’ aspirations for the schoolhouse are being floated and discussed by the group that facilitates the new Empire Area Community Center (EACC). Because there is more on Empire’s horizon this summer than just the village’s spectacular sunsets.
The EACC is a nonprofit whose purpose is to improve community life through shared activities. According to it vision statement, the EACC “seeks to identify and foster positive community actions for people of all ages within the community.” The group, which Sterling represents as a legal advisor, is comprised of a diverse crowd who has come together to give assistance, guidance and time for the community of Empire.
The EACC replaced the old community center, which was recently dissolved, but the community center’s efforts were been lost. The EACC continues to facilitate such beloved programs as the Halloween Party, the Holiday Potluck Dinner, carriage rides and the yoga and Zumba classes that Empire has come to depend on.
The new board and other dedicated community members have met since January to discuss the direction and management of the EACC. They meet every other Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Glen Lake Library, and welcome anyone who would like to join.
In addition, the community center has introduced more programs such as a tennis clinic and round robins, sponsorship of the community garden, as well as a community fund that receives donations for people in need and distributes the funds by nomination only. Local musician and philanthropist Chris Skellenger has been organizing downtown concerts on the last Sunday of every month to raise money and awareness for the fund. A program listing can be found on the bulletin between Deering’s Market and the Friendly Tavern, and will soon be available electronically on the Empire Chamber of Commerce website.
Sterling’s inspiration is the Kileaua Military Camp Recreation Lodge in Hawaii. The town is about the same size as Empire, and the building is from the same era as Empire’s old schoolhouse. Inside is a chamber of commerce desk with visitor information, a coffee kiosk, ping-pong tables, a café area, a lounge, a small theatre, and even a six-lane bowling alley.
She also stresses the importance of having the library involved. “Many of the community centers these days collaborate with libraries,” she says. “Libraries these days are more than just a place to check out books.” They are a place for people to meet, and learn, and be involved. Discussion has begun surrounding the Glen Lake library’s involvement in courses and management.
Library summer assistant and EACC board member Jan Sikorski is not only very involved and supportive, but she is also the main link between the old community center and the new one.
Sikorski dreams of having a building to operate in as well, especially in the winter. “We need events to happen to get us out of our homes and interacting with others.” More importantly, she dreams of a community where “things happen inter-generationally.” For example, she says that “we have a senior lunch but we don’t have seniors and kids lunch.” She adds that Empire needs a building where these generations can interact.
A feasibility study is being done to determine the EACC’s fundraising capabilities, and how the money raised should be spent. Sterling and Sikorski hope that enough money can be collected to acquire the old schoolhouse as a physical center to house future events.
The EACC invites anyone with dreams and ideas for the community center to join them at the Glen Lake Library on Aug. 2, at 5 p.m., or email the committee at empireareacommunitycenter(AT)gmail.com.