Neighbors’ Educational Opportunities took a 5K walk on August 13th from their retired home on Central Avenue to their new and remodeled facility off of Route 6. NEO on the Move was a celebration of memories past, the road to success, and opportunities of the future.
NEO, a child organization of Portage Adult Education, had nurtured students at the Central Avenue location for forty years. The 5K reunited teachers, students, and staff that called the building home.
“It’s bittersweet,” said student Ana Muniz. The school’s flexibility allowed her to attend classes and maintain a job while caring for her three children. “The paintings on the walls have meaning because they’re from the kids who used to go here. The new building is fresh and new but I’ve been here for a year and a half. I’m going to miss it.”
Teacher Shelley Schmidt was staying positive about the move.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” she said. “It’s very sad, in part, because I taught here and I went to Elementary School here. But [the new building] gives us more space and more opportunities to provide services. There are so many people out there that don’t have a high school diploma. Some don’t fit into the mold of a normal high school. They deserve to have a place where they fit in and can excel.”
Theo Eskridge, another student, chose New Vistas High School because “It’s easier to graduate early. They give you a second chance to allow you to improve.”
He was excited for the move. The renovated building used to be the Camelot Bowling Alley, an entertainment venue Eskridge frequented with his aunt. He is looking forward to seeing how it looks inside now.
The old bowling alley is 70,000 square feet, almost double the size of the Central Ave school.
“We’ve only renovated half the building,” said NEO’s Executive Director and founder, Rebecca Reiner, “So the other half is a blank slate ready to be filled with other services that relate to our population. We hope it will be a real regional hub for adult and continuing education.”
She created NEO to continue a program that the community desperately needed but that the Portage School System could no longer afford to finance. Reiner secured an investment from Project Neighbors, a group created to fund community projects. NorthShore sponsored the walk as part of a mutually beneficially friendship they have with NEO.
“They felt it was a health initiative too,” said Reiner. “To get up and move.”