There is an old school in Clinton, Iowa that is being transformed - and transforming the children inside of it.
The Gateway Area Community Center, or GACC, was created in 2018 by Jorge Rodriguez with this mission statement:
"Where kids can be kids and young adults can prepare for the next chapter in their lives."
The father of seven uses hands-on lessons to help dozens of children every day take the right steps in life. There's Del Sol Boxing, Ebony Illusion Dance, music lessons, gaming nights, and more.
"The only thing I'm doing is providing a service that everybody knew we needed, but nobody was willing to take on the headache that came with it," Jorge explained.
That headache started with no heat. Jorge was able to find a company in Savanna, Illinois to do the job - but not before he met Ronnie Deevers, an artist who helped brighten up the walls of the GACC:
"My paint would freeze and I would drop the brush, because my fingers were so cold, but that's how I met Jorge," she described.
Ronnie donated her time and talent to Jorge's cause, then decided to nominate Jorge for the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives.
"Just hearing his dreams of what he wanted here and his journey just to get to that point," she explained. "We’re all grateful we have heat today!"
The main goal of the GACC is to make all kids who walk through the door feel like equals.
"There are no colors," said Ronnie. "We're people. We're not colors and that's a big thing with Jorge. Racism stops here. There is none. It's gone."
"We wanted to make sure we touched everybody's interests, but that we created an environment where it would be judgement-free," added Jorge.
That's why all services are free at the GACC. That way, there's no obstacles holding a child back from spending their time at the center and getting away from crime and drugs.
"Kids want attention and they don't care if it's negative attention or positive attention as long as they're getting attention and Jorge's focus is to have a place of positive attention," Ronnie explained.
"Once they're hooked on drugs, that's it," said Jorge. "It changes their lives forever. But that drug - what people fail to understand is - that that drug gave them purpose. It might have been a bad purpose, but it was a purpose so what we were able to create was a different kind of purpose for them."
It's a positive purpose and a way to play, move, and fight - even when it feels like the world is battling back.
"You give a kid a purpose, it changes their lives forever."
"Give For Good" is a slogan of the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives, and Jorge, now a 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominee, is showing how one person can make a difference.
"We're glad we can be the voice for the sometimes unspoken," he concluded.
To learn more about the Gateway Area Community Center, click here.
To learn more about the Jefferson Awards Foundation, click here.
Every Tuesday in January and February, WQAD News 8 is introducing you to our 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominees. Then, in April, we will announce our Jefferson Awards Finalist. That person gets to attend the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this June and meet other Jefferson Awards Finalists from across the country.
To see who was nominated in all four previous seasons of the Jefferson Awards on WQAD News 8, click here.