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A True ‘Community’ College

McHenry County College offers a wealth of services to county residents including a fitness center, trips, business resources and classes.


“Who would have thought that a community college could give me everything people told me that I needed to do?” said Augie Nolte, a life-long resident of McHenry County.

When Nolte was about to retire, friends advised him to keep his mind and body active and to socialize regularly. He turned to McHenry County College (MCC) for all three. He signed up for a computer course, began a morning exercise routine in the Fitness Center and joined a group of seniors dubbed the Wilde Bunch for a hour-long session of friendly conversation and coffee in the cafeteria.

“The Fitness Center offers as much an opportunity to socialize as it does a chance to have a work out for the Wilde Bunch,” said Christine Barnes, a receptionist and secretary in the fitness center.

Nolte is only one of many county residents who regularly take advantage of the resources offered by MCC. Like other community colleges, MCC provides residents with a variety of resources in addition to traditional academic and industrial arts courses.

“Community programming is very important at McHenry County College, since we are the community’s college and need to meet all the lifelong learning needs of our residents,” MCC President Vicky Smith said. “Community colleges are integrated and connected to their communities in such a way that they can enhance the economic and community development of their communities through education, workforce development and community programming.”

Serving Businesses

MCC’s Shah Center is home to three separate programs oriented toward community development. The economic development program – also called the Illinois Small Business Development Center – works directly with small business owners, as well as those who hope to become business owners. Funding for center comes from federal and state programs as well as MCC itself. One-on-one counseling is available from a team of experts on subjects like starting a business in Illinois, the developing of a business plan, understanding cash flow and putting together a marketing plan.

“There really is no other place for someone to go to answer the question, ‘What do I do next?’” said Catherine Jones, Shah’s executive director. “We have a dedicated fulltime coordinator and business specialist who spend their time engaged in one-on-one counseling. Beyond that, we have a team of folks who give time to the center – a CPA, an attorney and a banker. It’s like having a private team of advisers.”

Shah’s work force development program includes two activities – open enrollment public training that takes place at the center, and customized training that happens at firms across the county.

“The wonderful thing about these noncredit programs is that we can begin to develop courses as the need arises as opposed to the time it takes to develop a credit program,” Jones said. “Many of our employers of McHenry County are small to medium sized and do not have the training department within their operation. We handle their corporate training needs while they concentrate on productivity.”

Three activities make up the center’s community development program. First, its traffic safety school, a partnership with the court system, is a program that discusses safe driving practices. Second, the center for nonprofit leadership sponsors The People In Need Conference each January. Its focus is to develop capacity for nonprofit organizations, which work so hard in our community. Finally, the Family Violence Coordinating Council is also done in partnership with the judicial court. Its part of a statewide program that strives to coordinate the efforts of everyone involved in solving the problem of family violence.

Not Just for Students

Did you know that residency in McHenry County make you eligible to use the college’s library, make use of its Fitness Center or rent many of its facilities? And all of these opportunities come fully furnished with all necessary staff and equipment.

“We’re not just focused on renting the facilities, rather to have our facilities used by the community,” said Amy Carzoli, coordinator of campus facilities and the conference center. “Everybody should be able to take advantage of what we have to offer. My goal is to have everybody in the district have some connection to our college.”

Now that you know what’s available, it’s easy for anyone to become connected. For example, October brings floral design demonstrations to the conference center. During that event, you will see floral design students and faculty on the stage building holiday centerpieces and decorations, all of which will be given to attendees.

In November, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President Kennedy, a guest speaker will talk about the president’s assassination. This will be a free event open to the public.

“As a community college library we’re hybrid of an academic library and the public library,” said Cynthia Leteri, an MCC reference librarian and information literacy instructor. “Our purpose is primarily to help students with their research needs, but we also serve the community at large.”

Although one needs to live in the district and be over 16 to get a library card, others can use library facilities on site even if they don’t qualify for a card. In addition to a collection of materials that supports the curriculum, the library boasts an extensive reference collection. In the last year, it has added a popular collection comprised of both fiction and nonfiction best sellers. It also has CDs (audio books and music) and DVDs in this collection. There are also more than 30 computers available with Internet.

Fitness for All

MCC’s Fitness Center features treadmills, ellipticals, cross trainers, stationary bicycles and stair climbers, plus strength-training machines and a free weight area that includes barbells and dumbbells.

“The fitness center is open to students, faculty and community members,” said Joel Chapman, coordinator of the fitness center who oversees day-to-day activities. “Membership is roughly divided in half between students and faculty and community members who use the fitness center. We have members with ages between 16 and 80. That I believe is one of the unique aspects of our facility. You can have someone in his or her seventies or eighties working out next to someone who is 19 years old.”

Class Time

You don’t have to be a college-age student to take courses. MCC allows seniors to take classes for no tuition. “Seniors in the community have an opportunity to attend college classes for a discount or for free,” said Helen Jost, coordinator of adult recruitment. “For individuals living in the district between the ages of 60 and 64, there’s a 20 percent discount for the tuition. For anyone 65 are older, there is no tuition. Fees for particular classes, however, might still be required.”

Credit classes are actually a relatively small portion of the learning opportunities available to adults at MCC. Its Continuing Education program offers a wide range of classes from composting or life painting to basics of wine or belly dancing. If such a selection is not enough, you might want to consider the Retired Adult Program (RAP). “RAP offers a way for seniors to get together,” Jost said. “It’s basically an educational exchange. There’s a small fee to join and usually a small fee for each event. But there are also events with no cost.”

Still not enough? How about an MCC-sponsored  trip to New England to see the fall colors or a class on beekeeping? Plus, so many other opportunities.

The resources MCC offers the residents of this county are far from infinite, but they are extensive – so much that it should be rather easy for Carzoli to achieve her goal and “have everybody in the district have some connection to our college.”

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