H.L. Neblett Community Center Executive Director
When driving down Fifth Street, one can’t help but notice the lofty basketball goals and colorful playground of the adjoining H.L. Neblett Community Center.
Although most of us just drive by, viewing it as nothing more than a childcare center for underprivileged children, its Executive Director, Rick Searcy, sees it as so much more than that.
Rick says of the over 200 children the Center serves, “They may come in underprivileged, because that’s the hand they were dealt, but they don’t stay that way. We’re developing leaders–school teachers, police officers…”
Searcy, a former Kentucky Wesleyan football player, graduate, and Offensive Coordinator, made his home in Owensboro several years ago, after transferring to KWC from Tennessee State University. After working for several non-profit and educational organizations in our area, he was given the opportunity to serve as the afterschool director at the Neblett Center two and half years ago. Last November, Rick was selected as one of nine finalists, out of a pool of over twenty-five applicants from all across the country, to interview for the Executive Director’s position. Searcy was offered the position, and now finds himself, at thirty-four years of age, as the director of one of the largest non-profit organizations in our area; something he doesn’t feel he would have been as likely to accomplish if he were in a larger city, such as New York. However, after growing up in a military family that moved around often, causing him to attend nine schools in twelve years, Rick feels that Owensboro is “the safest community I’ve ever lived in” and he is proud to call it home.
When I asked Rick to tell me more about the Neblett Center and the good work he was doing, his immediate humble response was, “It’s everybody’s building; I’m just one of the caretaker’s here.” He then quickly grabbed his keys and spent more than an hour proudly showing off the community’s center. Beginning with the cornerstone of the original building that sits prestigiously near the front entrance, he proceeded to tell me the story of Dr. Reginald Neblett, and how his first young gunshot victim (whom he treated and lost) would later become the inspiration for a recreational building to safely welcome teenagers. The original building was housed across the street from where the present facility stands, and would later be known to the public as the West End Daycare Center.
The current H. L. Neblett Community Center, on Fifth Street, was constructed in 2006, due in large part to a grant from Senator Mitch McConnell. The building was then dedicated and named in honor of Dr. Neblett’s wife, Hattie, who recognized the need “to decrease juvenile delinquency in the community.” The present facility has expanded its services from childcare to adult education, and serves individuals from age six weeks to mature adults. Over 95% of the children who walk through the doors of the Neblett Center receive free and reduced lunch. Yet, the center still manages to be one of the only grassroots community centers in the region (meaning it remains fully funded, without any parent organization). One of Rick’s many positive visions for the Center is to continue to remain self-sufficient, which has been made possible due in large part to generous support from such community “backbones” such as Independence Bank and the United Way.
As we continued to tour the facility, I was amazed at the many services available to the community, of which many of Owensboro residents may be unaware. The Center offers a free weight room that is accessible from 7:30a.m. to 9:00p.m., as long as participants sign a waiver. One of the Center’s visions is to “develop people not just mentally, but physically, as well.” Rick’s background and passion for sports and fitness was revealed as he emphasized the importance for African-Americans to stay physically fit, citing the increased rates of diabetes and high blood pressure within that demographic. The Center also offers a library with both adult and children’s books, and will soon have a fully operational computer lab, thanks to a generous donation from Old National Bank. In addition, the Center serves as a location for the Summer Feeding Program, US Bank financial literacy class, as well as a tax site and venue for local weekend events and entertainment.
Despite all of the many services the Neblett Center has to offer, the childcare center really is at the heart of everything they do. That was evident as we entered each classroom, gym, or common area. Children of every age and size would run up to Rick, arms wide open, anticipating a moment of his attention. He very sweetly obliged on every occasion, greeting each child we saw by name, and giving them each a hug and a kiss on the top of their precious little heads. I can honestly say that, in all of my years working in childcare and education, I have never seen anyone display such an unabashed love for children.
The childcare center provides care for children ages six weeks to twelve years. There is a nutritionist on staff that ensures that the children receive a substantial hot meal each day through the Federal Food Program. Children are provided with breakfast, lunch, and a nutritious snack. The Neblett Center also offers three vans that provide drop-off and pick-up service to all city schools, as well as Audubon, Tamarack, and several other county schools. In addition, the afterschool program services six different middle schools, and offers a separate study hall in the afternoon. The recreational department, an area of the center that draws no income, yet is still greatly needed by our area youth, is open from 3:00p.m. to 9:00p.m., and provides games, activities, and occasional field trips to local colleges and sporting events. As if the Center’s heart for children wasn’t apparent enough, there is also a separate building that offers nighttime childcare from 11:00a.m. to 12:00 midnight “for parents who work non-traditional hours.”
Going forward, Rick Searcy’s mission is to “impact as many people as we can, efficiently.” He wants people to know that “our lines do not stop at the West End. I want us to continue to open our doors to every type of person.” Looking ahead, Rick says that he feels so fortunate that “this community has embraced me. I want this Neblett Center to embrace the community.”
[tw-divider]What you can do to help[/tw-divider]
The H.L. Neblett Center is in need of the following items to better care for the youth in our community:
- 4 New, or gently-used Glider-style rockers for the infant room
- New toys for ages 6wks – 10 years
- Sports equipment of all types, including: baseball, basketball, and football
- Canned Goods
- Art supplies and consumables – paper, scissors, crayons, paint, etc.
- An additional 12-16 Passenger Van to aid in the transport of children to and from school
- A Pick-up truck in good condition for the maintenance department to transport items between the two buildings, and transport supplies for lawn care
- Volunteers, especially those who could share their talents with children in dance, sports, art, etc.
- Monetary donations
If you are able to donate any of these items, please contact Rick Searcy at (270) 685-3197.