25 years serving youths
It’s not until mid-afternoon that the Euell A. Wilson Center transforms from a quiet building on Fort Wayne’s southeast side into a noisy community hub offering homework assistance, character-building programs, music lessons and, among other activities, recreation time.
“Then you’ve got the sounds of beautiful kids,” founder Shirley Woods said in a room lined with computers, a couple of board games within her reach.
The Euell A. Wilson Center has welcomed children and teens for 25 years : a milestone Woods and others are celebrating Saturday with a concert at Clyde Theatre featuring Grammy-award winning gospel artist CeCe Winans and Christiana Danielle Hicks, a Snider High School graduate and top-10 finisher on NBC’s “The Voice.”
Tickets were nearly sold out Thursday afternoon for the 800-seat venue.
Woods plans to speak at the event, but her remarks won’t include thanking every person who has contributed to the center’s success.
“There wouldn’t be a concert,” Woods said.
With a focus on faith, family and service, the Euell A. Wilson Center serves youth and families through education, engagement and empowerment programs.
Woods isn’t surprised it has reached its silver anniversary.
“I figured it would because what we do is going to be a need forever,” she said.
Woods started the center in her backyard in May 1993 following the death of her son : the facility’s namesake : who died of natural causes at age 19 the previous November.
He was a Parade All-American football player at Bishop Dwenger and was attending Triton Junior College in River Grove, Illinois, when he died.
The Journal Gazette on Tuesday presented the 26th Euell A. Wilson Award to Bishop Dwenger’s Joe Tippmann. The honor recognizes a senior football player who demonstrates leadership and talent on and off the field.
Woods initially considered establishing a scholarship in her son’s name, she said, but prayer led her to creating the center.
About a year after its launch, Woods learned she was carrying out her son’s dream. One of his former teachers gave her a creative-writing assignment he submitted that indicated he wanted to work with children, Woods said.
The center, 1512 Oxford St., operates with a few staff members, mostly part time, and relies on grants and donations.It also includes a gym at 1717 Wabash Ave., Woods said, noting that facility is undergoing renovations.
Daily attendance averages about 80 youths, Woods said, noting the center frequently welcomes new visitors. Just this week, she said, a mother signed up her children who had been begging to come after learning about it from friends.
In public, Woods often encounters people whom the center has benefited. One woman told Woods the program for girls helped shape her life.
Woods’ biggest wish for the center is that children and families understand the love of God.
“If the heart is still hard,” she said, “we’re not going to be as effective as we want to be.”