The H.L. Neblett Community Center first opened its doors to the youth in the area in 1936. However, the seed was first sown when Dr. Reginald Neblett and his wife Hattie opened their basement to children in the neighborhood in 1932.
Reginald moved his physician’s office to Owensboro in 1930 and had only been in town for a few minutes when he was summoned to treat a gunshot victim. After treating the young man who eventually died, he said to his wife, “We have to do something to keep these kids off the street.”
With the support of her husband and other members of the community, Hattie laid the foundation for the Neblett Center in their basement. The initial building was an old tobacco warehouse that was renovated in 1942 and underwent intense renovations throughout the years.
“This place has and continues to make an impact within the community,” said current Executive Director Olga McKissic. “It’s been a part of my life since I was born — I grew up there and it’s my honor and pleasure to serve as executive director.”
After operating with several restrictions in place through the pandemic, the facility reopened its doors on July 6 and is operating in its traditional capacity. The present location opened in 2006 and features a library, gymnasium, fitness room, game room, dining room, commercial kitchen, and classrooms.
The Neblett Center offers a certified and state-licensed child care facility for those between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years that teaches fundamental life and literacy skills. They also provide an evening recreation program, a free physical fitness center, a food nutrition program, and various opportunities for aging adults.
The facility also offers an after-school enrichment program and serves as host to the Western Academy, a program for Black and biracial males grades 3 through 12. According to their website, the mission of the academy is to encourage, empower, and educate young males to excel and create a positive footprint in the world.
McKissic credits the community and the many partnerships they’ve formed through the years as the basis for their continued success.
“Community is part of our name — the Owensboro community has been very supportive of our many programs and offerings,” she said. “We are in the neighborhood but we are open to anyone that needs our services.”
Among the center’s many partners, the United Way has maintained its partnership since 1946. Support from partners and local, state, and federal governments assisted in easing the burden of the pandemic.
“It was doable — we received guidelines from the state and worked closely with them to put restrictions in place,” McKissic said. “We wanted to keep our doors open. We had some wonderful folks that helped us during COVID to provide gift baskets and support for the senior citizens in the community. The state and the federal government have been awesome.”
In appreciation of their many corporate partners, the center will offer luncheons to express their gratitude. They also offer several events that range from Martin Luther King Jr. and Juneteenth celebrations to Kentucky Derby Breakfasts and Christmas programs.
McKissic and the center wished to express their sincerest appreciation to the community and their many partners:
“We appreciate you and all you do.”
By: Joh Kirkpatrick The Owensboro Times