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Update: Support has poured in for Springfield neighborhood center hit by vandals

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:04 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s nice to know that people care and since the north side Springfield neighborhood center he manages was hit by vandals at the end of June, Mark Dixon has discovered that there is still some good in the world.

The vandalism sparked action and caring.

“People wanted to distance themselves from that activity by saying, ‘Hey, I wanna come help. I wanna give a donation. Whatever I can do,’” Dixon said of the feedback he’s gotten since the incident.

Located in the Silver Springs neighborhood, the Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center is an historic multi-story home that has served the African-American community for generations as everything from a nursing home to veterans home to health care facility.

It was also a day care center run by Roberta Bartley and her sister Olive Decatur, who were teachers at the Lincoln School during segregation.

“We really kind of see ourselves as a hub,” Dixon said of the center’s current role. “The building has been in the service of the African-American community for about 100 years. Now a lot of community groups meet here and do their planning here.

But in late June vandals spray painted racial slurs and other graffiti on the home, a crime that’s so far produced no arrests.

But it did galvanize the community to show its support.

The Springfield-Greene Co. Park Board sent over a crew to wash off the graffiti and other groups called to see what they could do including the non-denominational Courageous Church, which has a north campus near Interstate 44 and a south campus in Rogersville.

The church does community work on a regular basis like leaving winter coats and gloves for the homeless and making trips to emergency rooms to give out refreshments and snacks.

Church officials immediately wanted to see what they could do for the neighborhood center.

“It’s not just enough for us to talk about loving our community on Sunday morning,” said Eli Villa, a church volunteer. “We want to find a way to put that into physical action.”

So Villa joined a group of about 20 church members who gathered at the neighborhood center over the weekend to clear brush off the property.

“We were trying to clear off trailer loads full of brush,” Villa recalled. “It was kind of grown over. We got rained on but it’s just a blessing to get out there and say, ‘We got your back!’”

Dixon was thankful for their efforts.

“As a volunteer organization maintaining this property can be a challenge,” he said with a laugh. “The more that it is cleaned up and looks like it’s well kept, the less likely vandals are going to see it as a target.”

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks also got involved by giving the neighborhood center a $5,000 grant to get outdoor security cameras.

Around 170 other individuals have also made monetary donations.

“Some of those were as small as five dollars, others much larger as much as $500,” Dixon said. “All of it is greatly appreciated.”

“I couldn’t be more proud at how our community responded to just a really horrible situation,” added Brian Fogle, the President/CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. “It just shows that Springfield has a willingness to work together. For us to be the community we need to be, we have to be welcoming to all people and this was a setback.”

But considering the Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center was not widely known around the community, something good has actually come from the senseless crime.

“I was meeting with a couple of representatives from the Rotary Club,” Dixon recalled. “They said, ‘To our shame, we didn’t know you existed until this happened.’ We’ve never had this kind of attention or outpouring from the community so yeah, good has come out of bad.”

“It has lifted their visibility in the community,” Fogle said. “And hopefully we can continue to take this bad thing and make it good.”

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