Times have certainly changed since Leon and Grace Merkes homesteaded in Sterling. Ten years ago Grace was the driving force behind bringing a Head Start program to her community and last week they celebrated the grand opening of the new Sterling Community Center with their 10th Annual “Fall-Fest” benefit dinner and auction to benefit the Head Start program. “I feel pretty happy and proud tonight to join with all these folks in celebrating the opening of this community facility tonight,” Merkes told the Dispatch in an interview. “Our Community Club worked forever to make this happen, a lot of volunteer hours from our board members and supporters; it’s been a long time coming. You see grandkids and great grandkids running around in there tonight, a long time ago my goal was to have a community center for my kids and they’re grown now so it’s for the grandkids but its here now and we are grateful for it,” she said. The Sterling Head Start program has helped over 500 kids and families since it’s inception in 2001. The new Community Center will support the Head Start program as well as a myriad of other programs that will be hosted at the facility.
“We went through a lot of up and downs doing it, this is our fifth design that we came up with but it’s come together now and we have over 7,000 volunteer hours into this building and over $400,000 of in-kind donations, that let us get it built right at $100 a square foot and we’re proud of that and all the people who helped us out,” said Bob Oakes, president of the Sterling Community Club. “We had help from the State and the Rasmussen Foundation, but it’s the people of the community that really stepped up with the sweat equity to make this happen and get the project completed,” added Oakes. According to VISTA volunteer Debbie Harley the new facility will have multiple uses for the community, “When I came here I looked at an empty building with a lot of possibilities and so far we’ve started exercise programs for a variety of age groups, we have an after school open gym for kids and will soon have arts and craft projects, science learning and training in specific sports. Most of the programs have started because people walked in and said can we do this or that, so through the board we’ve been able to customize activities for what the community has requested,” said Harley. Last weekend the Sterling Community Center hosted the areas first Crafts and Art fair with 40 local vendors some of which were local students and artists selling their wares. For more information about Sterling Community Center activities call Debbie at 262-7224 or log on to www.sterlingcommunityclub.com.
See PHOTOS, page 6