URBANA – Schoolchildren in Urbana who need a helping hand lost a power station last week.
Janice M. Mitchell, 58, of Urbana, founder of Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, died early Monday at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center from cancer.
A social worker by training, Ms. Mitchell was a wife and mother with the ability to bring people and resources together to help children in need.
“What impressed me the most was that she was a God-fearing woman who was passionate about everything she was passionate about,” said Danny Mitchell, her husband of 32 years. “His compassion was immeasurable.”
Her best friend, Cisillia Brown from Champaign, agreed.
“She was a Christian woman who loved God, loved her family, loved her community and she loved the children of the community. Her goal has always been to help a child, and she did. She has helped thousands of children, not just children but their families, ”said Brown.
Since 2005, Ms. Mitchell has served as the Urbana School District parent and community outreach liaison.
But long before she started earning a salary, she was doing this kind of work, said Jennifer Ivory-Tatum, Superintendent of District 116 of Urbana and longtime friend of Ms Mitchell.
Ms. Mitchell’s children Jeniece, 31, and Everette, 25, attended Prairie School, now Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary, in the Urbana neighborhood where the family lived. Their mother started mentoring groups there and at Urbana Middle School.
“I heard stories about her as an active parent who organized groups, dance teams, exercise teams. She was so involved and so present and doing everything she could to make Prairie the best it could be. Her energy helped attract other parents. She was just a vital force in the building, ”said Ivory-Taturm.
Ivory-Tatum, who started as principal of King School in 2005 under the impetus of Ms Mitchell, recalled a time when four mattresses were dropped off at the school.
“She found out that people needed something, and she knew all these people in the community, and it would just happen,” Ivory-Tatum said.
Former District 116 Superintendent Don Owen was also impressed with Ms. Mitchell’s talent for forging partnerships between families and the school district.
“She was a district worker who had to come and have difficult and uncomfortable conversations with teachers and administrators. She was excellent at this job. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for people who might not have a voice at the time. And she didn’t just go out there and fix it, she helped people find their voice, ”said Owen.
It was in January 2010 that Ms. Mitchell, with the help of her husband and others who revolved around her, opened the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center in the former home of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle franchise in 1402 E. Main St., U.
Open until 5:30 p.m., the grant-funded center serves students from kindergarten through high school with classes that help them develop their educational and technological skills.
It also offers summer enrichment camps and college and career preparation training. Everette Mitchell works there as a site coordinator.
“It started out as a kind of model community school, an after school school where young people could go for learning, enrichment, field trips and outreach activities to expose young people to the community. ”Said Ivory-Tatum.
Janet LeRoy, a 38-year elementary teacher who currently works at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, took a close look at the center last year when two of her students spent their entire days learning at distance when the pandemic prevented students from going to school. .
“What she provided them with was a safe space, hot meals, and volunteers to be with the students so they could do their work in the afternoon,” LeRoy said.
“Having enough volunteers during COVID to provide that extra support, wow. I could see that (my students) were getting computer help and all the help they needed, as well as time to play and time to be a kid.
LeRoy said that by dropping her work off at the center, she could see everyone was smiling.
“It was so impressive to see. She handled the whole package, ”said LeRoy.
Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin paid the ultimate compliment to Ms Mitchell.
“In a world where everyone likes to complain, Janice has done something. People regularly ask me what we can do to fight gun violence and help stop it? My response is to do something that you are comfortable with… be it Sunday school, sports, boy scouts. Pick something and do it. She was a doer, ”said Seraphin, a frequent guest speaker at the center.
State attorney Julia Rietz, whose job it is to prosecute – and try not to prosecute – minors, said Ms Mitchell was “an example of someone who walked and did the job that needed to be done. made “.
“On her own, she created a safe space for children and youth and gave them the opportunity to see that they are valued and can be successful,” said Rietz.
Rietz’s daughter spent a summer working at the center with Ms Mitchell and Jeniece Mitchell, a Unit 4 teacher, which helped solidify Rietz’s daughter’s decision to become a high school teacher.
“I am grateful to include my daughter among the countless young people whose lives have been best influenced by Janice Mitchell,” she said.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said she first interacted with Ms Mitchell years ago when Ms Mitchell invited city council members to the center to brief them on her plans.
“Janice and Danny cleaned the walls, painted the building, solicited donations. She had the passion to help children and especially to support them in their academic success, and it became much more than that.
“Her legacy lives on in the thousands of children she has helped over the years,” said Marlin.
Hub Burnett of Rantoul first met him when he returned to Urbana in 1993 to serve as an army recruiter.
Danny Mitchell said his wife was an Army ROTC candidate at Southern University in Baton Rouge and had a career of around 13 years in the military reserves, retiring as captain and company commander in Urbana .
“She was very useful to me in helping me identify young people for whom the army would be good. Even though this is my hometown, I had been gone for a while, ”said Burnett.
Burnett, who is setting up a youth center in Rantoul, said he took inspiration from Ms Mitchell’s playbook when trying to throw something in Rantoul as successful as what she did in Urbana.
“You better believe it,” Burnett said.
Ms. Mitchell holds an MBA in Social Services Administration from the University of Chicago.
Danny Mitchell, a 39-year-old banker, said his wife was doing an internship in Chicago when they met and was immediately won over by her.
“She was one of the greatest cooks in the world,” he said. “She was a dynamo. She aspired to perfection. Once she felt it was close to perfect, she took it a step further.
Danny Mitchell said he believed he and his wife would return to his native Louisiana to raise their family.
“When I saw how she thrived in this community, how she embraced the community and thrived in what she did, I said no. This community can greatly benefit from its services, ”he said.
And that’s what he did. Prior to her employment with the Urbana School District, Ms. Mitchell also worked at Cunningham Children’s Home and the Champaign County Mental Health Center.
Danny Mitchell said the youth center was his legacy.
“We will work as hard as possible to carry on this legacy on his behalf,” he said.