By Ann Cipperly
As visitors gathered in front of the Cecil D. Moreman House, Executive Director Laura Cooper welcomed everyone to the 45th anniversary celebration of the Lee County Youth Development Center and ribbon cutting for the Chanticleer Day School.
“This is a day that was 45 years in the making,” said Cooper. “In my humble opinion the very ground we stand upon is both sacred and solid.”
“More than 50 years ago, our agency’s founders, Cecil Moreman and Jane Walker, were filled with overflowing faith and fortitude. These two visionaries moved heaven and earth to make sure there was a safe haven here in Lee County to care for young people and shelter them into adulthood.”
“Today,” added Cooper, “we are so grateful to our founders and dozens of others who walked along side them and grateful to you for believing in children and families and our agency’s mission. We are standing on the Genesis where it all began, and across the street (Chanticleer Day School) is our future. Our children are our future, and we believe fervently in them.”
Following a song from the Chanticleer choir, Dr. Anne Penney, chairman of the board, invited everyone to the ribbon cutting at the new Chanticleer Day School and to tour the facility. The school for 8th-12th graders with academic and behavioral concerns will open Sept. 3. “The space speaks promise, hope and opportunity,” said Cooper.
The Lee County Youth Development Center exists because of the tireless efforts of Cecil Moreman and Jane Walker, who were dedicated to finding a facility for neglected children and youth being taken to jail if there was no place else to go. After fundraisers failed to raise enough funds for a facility, they campaigned to have a property tax passed, which was unprecedented.
In order for the property tax to become a reality, it had to pass through the legislature, have a constitutional amendment passed locally and then pass in a statewide election. The tax passed in 1972 and then again in 1992. The center is the only human services agency to receive funding from a local property tax base.
As a result of the tax, the Youth Development Center opened in 1973 to answer the need for the placement of abused and neglected children. The center has experienced tremendous growth and is unique with a complete, wide spectrum of services for prevention to treatment and everything in between. The center serves more than 6,000 at-risk individuals annually.
When the tax passed for the second time in 1992, it was going to be up for a vote again in 20 years. “Jane Walker had it changed to 30 years,” says Cooper. “The next vote is in 2022.”
Today, as the Lee County Youth Development Center celebrates its 45th year, it has helped thousands of abused, neglected children and youth.
Cooper has served at the facility for 35 of those 45 years, with the last 19 years as executive director.
“As the center marks its 45 th anniversary,” said Cooper, “serving as executive director has given me an opportunity to work alongside our board of directors in shaping the agency’s vision and mission for the 21st century. It has not changed much from what the founders envisioned. These ladies’ foresight and vision were decades in advance.”
“Our founders knew a place to heal was needed while their parents got themselves together. We are giving children safe passage into adulthood. Sometimes there are not parents who can do that.”
For this reason, they have a transitional living home and independent living apartments for older teens and young adults. They can stay until they are 21 years old.
On any given day, there are about 150 kids at the center, which provides comprehensive care for youth and families at risk, not only in the county but also statewide.
In addition to health and psychiatric clinics, the agency operates a Learning Center, Psychological Services Center, six community-based programs, six residential care programs, along with therapeutic foster homes and independent living apartments. The partnerships with Auburn University, Southern Union, United Way, local schools, governments and other entities are vital to advancing the center’s mission.
The center has been accredited three times since 2004 and received advanced accreditation in 2016.
“We would not exist,” said Cooper, “if it were not for the voters of Lee County believing in the work and dignity of children who have been abused and neglected.”
Board members attending the celebration included Richard Moreman Jr., whose grandmother, Cecil Moreman, was co-founder. “It has been a great experience for me just being a part of making decisions on campus,” Richard said. “It has been great seeing what the Youth Development Center does for our community and helping children in our area. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Julia Moreman, Cecil Moreman’s daughter-in-law, remembers when she was working on the project for the facility. “I just could not be prouder that Mrs. Moreman had the dream,” Julia said, “and that Laura Cooper could carry it forward. She has done an outstanding job.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones added that it is a testament to the vision of those years ago who saw the importance of having this facility in the community.
“We are pleased to celebrate the 45 th anniversary of the Youth Development Center and be able to cut the ribbon on our new Chanticleer Day School.We are thrilled so many people have come out to help celebrate the good work that goes on here. Without the dreams of our founders, we would not be here today,” said Dr. Anne Penney.