Jones Center activities pick up steam, ‘reaching its intended purpose’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 183 views 

In just two and a half years there has been tremendous change taking place at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. The sprawling, cavernous facility has taken on a new life of its own behind the management of CEO Ed Clifford and his team who sought to restore one of the region’s biggest assets to a sustainable position. 

Close to reaching the $30 million addition to the Jones Trust endowment, Clifford said the center is within a year or more of being at a financially sustainable level. But the management team also sought to repurpose the center and make it more accessible to the region at large which was in keeping with Bernice Jones’ core mission.

“In the last 2.5 years, after a targeted effort by the Jones Center staff, the facility is reaching its intended purpose. Educational activities from pre-school to college take place all week, organizations like the Hispanic Women's Organization and the Holocaust Conference, swim and hockey teams, fitness center participants and recreation leagues populate the center at all times, and its sometimes hard to find a parking spot,” Clifford said.

He said the management team knew there was a philanthropical mindset in Northwest Arkansas, but they have been overwhelmed by the number of families and corporations who stepped up to make pledges so the center could continue its mission in perpetuity.

Adding “footsteps” within the gigantic center was high on the list of priorities for Clifford two years ago. He said at times early on it was a hard sale but in the past year or so there is new life in the hallways.

“One of the biggest things we did was getting Camp War Eagle in here. It has added about 100,000 footsteps a year,” Clifford said.

Lacey Bailey, a mentor at Camp War Eagle, said the programs associated with this charity are more than two-week overnight summer camps. She said the Jones Center serves as Camp War Eagle’s 365 Hub where other outreach programs have been initiated. 

“We now offer an after school program here in the Jones Center between the hours of 3:30 and 6 p.m. We bus 100 kids from Jones Elementary to the center each weekday where serve as after school care. We help with homework, work on art projects, tutor every day. It costs families just $40 per semester to access this care. We are meeting a real need for some families in this area,” Bailey said during a luncheon at the Jones Center on Thursday (Nov. 20). 

In two weeks they plan to serve 250 area families a holiday meal. They will also send home two weeks’ worth of meals for when the children are out of school as well as some Christmas gifts. This past year Camp War Eagle hosted a weeklong Day Camp at the Jones Center that served 350 kids. It was so popular that the group plans to add a second Day Camp in Rogers this coming year.

They also mentor 70 students in the Springdale and Fayetteville schools one-on-one for the entire school year.

“Last year we engaged 1,700 area kids through our programs. Those students gave back 51,000 volunteer hours. The goal of the Walton Family Foundation with Camp War Eagle is to train up these kids with a heart to give back and serve their communities,” Bailey said. 

Clifford said getting NorthWest Arkansas Community College classes held in the Jones Center has added about 600 students a week and help fill up the classroom space. Barbara Goodman, director of outreach at NWACC,  said basic courses are taught at the Jones Center.

It’s not just college courses being taught at the Jones Center. The new technology school in Springdale has 226 8th graders housed in the Jones Center each day where they are taught a STEM curriculum in preparation for their entrance to the new Tech Innovation High School next year. 

Christie Silano, director of Ozark Education Inc., runs a Montessori School and preschool in the Jones Center. Silano said the Arknsas State Board of Education recently granted them a charter. This will be the first charter school in the city of Springdale. There are 23 students this year, but the Charter is for grades K – 8. She expect enrollment of 120 students this coming year and up to 280 students by year four. 

She said Ozark Education Inc. has a pending purchase on a new property in downtown Springdale at 301 S. Holcomb. Silano said the school would movr at some point but the preschool will remain in the Jones Center.

Sports are a big draw to the Jones Center with competitive swimming at one end and a regulation ice rink at the other. Vince Brick of NWA Hockey Association, said there are 94 members in the youth hockey league that play their home games at the Jones Center. He said there are various levels of instruction from “learn to play” to competitive varsity teams that compete in the St. Louis League.

The University of Arkansas Club Hockey Team uses the Jones Center for its home rink, capturing the Southeastern Conference title this past year and ranking third at nationals.

Dean Rawlings, program director at the Jones Center, said there is also an adult hockey league with 80 players on six teams. He said the numbers continue to grow and there will likely be 8 teams in the near future.

Indoor soccer, also a new adult program at the Jones Center, had 140 participants at the start. There is a fall and spring league.

Clifford said when he left the Jones Center on Thursday he gazed across the parking lot at the number of school buses present for a competitive swim meet.

“I saw buses from Bentonville and Springdale. Not a surprise. But to see buses from Fort Smith, Harrison and Conway it occurred to me that the Jones Center is not just a resource for this area but also a much larger region across the state,” Clifford said

One of the newer partners to hang a shingle in the Jones Center is the Cisneros Center for Immigration in Northwest Arkansas.

Jacob Perry, one of the American Dream Fellows at the center, said it is the organization’s mission to reach out to immigrants in the region and make sure they are aware of the services and opportunities from language and literacy to financial and cultural understandings to areas where they too can give back to the community.

He said the non-profit activity works with immigrants who are seeking their share of the American Dream. With immigration at the forefront of the political arena, Perry said their organization is non-partisan in nature and works within the confines of the laws in place to educate immigrants living and working in this region.