Illinois Valley Community College Ottawa Center in Ottawa, IL

"No place so close can take you so far"

Welcome to IVCC OC! (Credit: Valery Calvetti)

Her eyes welling with tears, her hands trembling, she drew her breath deeply and began to speak, slowly at first, her pace increasing as her story reached its crescendo, tears spilling over and splashing down her cheeks. Her English was broken at best, her story tragic at its worst. Appearing at the threshold next was a waif-like teenager, a toddler clinging to her hand, her gaze grazing the floor as she spoke, “I have many responsibilities most teenagers don’t — I have to drive 40 minutes to get here, I pay for my sitter, I take side jobs, I don’t get much sleep and I had to drop out of high school.”

As the day wore on and wintery weather was closing in, pellets of ice bounced off the window. With every word he spoke, it felt as if the sting of the elements pierced the heart. Now just before the holidays — his employer closed the plant, left the area — he has no formal education and no job prospects. As the sun set and the wind increased, a young man entered and said, “I want to go away to the university, but my mom was just diagnosed with cancer and my grandpa whom she cares for has Alzheimer’s. I can’t just walk away now, when she needs me.”

In a rural Midwest community, where did they turn for help? To downtown Ottawa at 321 West Main where Ottawa Center, a small satellite campus of Illinois Valley Community College(IVCC OC), is located. IVCC OC is a tiny space with enormous opportunity — offering a second chance to those who barely had a first. This little power engine of education is a partnership between IVCC and the city of Ottawa. No high school diploma? Not for long! Can’t speak English? We talk heart to heart! Want a short-term career? Stop here! Need computer access? Log on! Lifelong learner over age 65? No charge! Planning on transferring to a university? Start here!

IVCC OC is nestled between the Fox and Illinois rivers, in historic downtown Ottawa. Located in the center of mom and pop retail and local restaurants, IVCC OC reaches up and out their door. At holiday time, students, faculty and staff are busy stuffing stockings and delivering gifts to the nursing homes. In a blue-collar, hard-working, never-afforded-the-opportunity-for-higher-education river town, students want the residents of the greatest generation to know they are grateful for blazing the trail. In the bleak winter month’s, students are freezing for a reason, getting out and about, participating in the local food bank drive. If the pet shelter needs supplies, you can bet a box for donations will appear in their lobby. Students help others as well as their own. Someone didn’t have money to eat lunch, so a lunch locker was created. No student should have to sit in class with an empty stomach, unable to concentrate. Students, faculty and staff stock the locker with snacks. Word got around the community and a group of seniors gave back to the students by collecting enough money for meal cards.

The Illinois Valley Community College Ottawa Center brings heart to the heartland.

A full classroom at IVCC OC. (Credit: Valery Calvetti)

Stories About Illinois Valley Community College Ottawa Center

Think back to a kinder, gentler time — Bob McGrath sitting on the corner of Sesame Street surrounded by a diverse group of friends. There was always a story to be told and a lesson to be learned, someone needing help and someone willing to lend a helping hand. In a short span of time, he reached into our homes and lifted us all up. Bob has passed but his hometown remains. Ottawa, Illinois, is real and the lessons he taught us long ago are the same.

Walk down West Main Street in Ottawa and enter another magical place, IVCC OC. It has just five classrooms and two computer labs, yet it’s a powerhouse of opportunity and hope with some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Where else does the president of the college call home; the mayor stop by just to chat; a board president and funeral director work side-by-side pulling weeds; a postal carrier brighten the day with a smile; an immigrant step down a path to a better life; a dislocated worker find an education leading to a career; a high school dropout earn a diploma; a future nurse begin a career; an adult learn to navigate the use of a computer; a student not prepared for the rigors of a university get a second chance; a master gardener volunteer her time; a bus driver drop in on a break; and where do you find kind eager people ready to ease the struggle of transition? The Illinois Valley Community College Ottawa Center!

Pull the door wide open, cross the threshold and feel the warmth and kindness. You’re sure to be greeted with “Hi, how can I help you?” IVCC OC in Ottawa, Illinois is the nicest place in America because, “No place so close can take you so far!”

IVCC OC students visit the site of the historic Lincoln-Douglas debate. (Credit: Valery Calvetti)