January 10, 2011


In the window of a building in a small town hangs a slightly faded poster.  In years past the building was divided by a common wall and housed two thriving businesses, a drugstore and a dry goods store. On either side of these were a hotel, a bank, and more dry goods stores. They faced a similar block of businesses separated by a busy railroad track. Over the years, businesses came and they went as so called progress, then economic decline began to take it's toll. Citizens of the community sadly witnessed as the buildings along what used to be main street of their home town became empty and silent. The rumble of trains on the track that ran through the middle of town was only a reminder of the vibrant life that used to be. This same scenario may have played out in your community.

The faded poster has not always hung in the window, but was placed there in 1999.  The words on the poster are simple, straight forward, and if given opportunity, the words will inspire, encourage, energize. The poster is entitled "How to Build Community".  Though not written by Lorece Harris, the poster's message could have been.  During the years of decline of her hometown, Lorece began to dream of her community and the need to revive that which was dying, to repair that which was broken, and reunify that which was scattered. As she shared her dream with family and friends, the dream was caught by one and then another. Soon it became a cause and a campaign. Together, a handful of like-minded individuals, brought the dream to reality.

Today, the building with the poster in the window is called the Centennial Cultural Center in Olla, LA. Now every building along the block is occupied or in the process of renovation. People of the community and surrounding towns now come together to reminisce, to rejoice, to create and celebrate together.  The resulting memory making, learning, and sharing with friends and neighbors have brought a new spirit to this once still and lifeless area of town.

The Centennial Cultural Center was a project of the LaSalle Arts Council.  During the development of CCC, historical documents, photographs, and memorabilia were donated by people of the area and past residents.  One purpose of the center is to exhibit those collected materials.  Other purposes are to teach and demonstrate art and to provide a place for performances of music and display of art.  The center contains a small museum displaying items based on early times.

The grand opening of the CCC was commemorated  on October 1, 1999 just in time to help the town of Olla celebrate it's 100th birthday.  Many people who were instrumental in the formation of the center were in attendance at the opening and dedication ceremony of the CCC as noted in an article published in the Jena Times/Olla Tullos Urania Signal.

The goal of the center is to stimulate, encourage, nurture, promote and produce culture and art. Since it's beginning, the Centennial Cultural Center has become so much more than a museum or learning center. As I sat with Fern McKeithen, the current president of the center, we discussed how the center was meeting the needs of the community by using all art forms to teach good culture, thereby giving people and especially our younger generation good information to make wise choices, and by teaching standards and values.

There are several reasons for the successes of the Centennial Cultural Center. One reason is the co-operation between the towns of the area and the board of  the CCC.  Other important reasons for the success is support of the people in each of the communities and a volunteer spirit among those people.  Co-operation, community support, willingness to work hard, a positive outlook, and a desire to give others opportunities to learn and grow, are essentials in success.

The words on the poster in the window contain a wisdom that has been a guiding light in the growth and success of the Centennial Cultural Center.  If other communities in need of restoration and renewal would adopt the attitudes presented on the poster, much could be accomplished for the good of all.  I will share a few of them from the poster along with a few of my own.

How To Build Community

  • Turn off your TV or computer & explore your community.
  • Greet your neighbors & wave to people from your porch or yard.
  • Buy from local merchants or barter for goods & services.
  • Play music and sing together.
  • Share your skills and share what you have.
  • Honor senior citizens and soldiers.
  • Support neighborhood schools and charitable organizations.
  • Hire young people for odd jobs, recommend them to others.
  • Read aloud to children or old folks.
  • Talk to the mailman, meter reader or delivery person.
  • Ask for help if you need it, offer help even if not asked.
  • Give someone an opportunity or a second chance.
  • Start a neighborhood garden, & the share bounty with others.
  • Listen more than you speak but speak out if needed.
  • Help keep a park or play area clean.
  • Learn something new & teach it to others.
  • Fix something that is broken even if you didn't break it
  • Volunteer in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, child care facilities.
  • Support a local non-profit organization.
I would encourage you to develop your own list within your own community.  Ask your friends to share their own thoughts for the community.  Contact your civic leaders, ask for their input and support.  Learn what others have done to build community. Do not allow negativity or obstacles to discourage you. Dream big and share the dream for your community with your friends and neighbors.  Or catch the dream of someone already involved in building community.  It’s a worthwhile effort and an achievable goal.

The Centennial Cultural Center is financially supported by donations, grants and fund raisers.  The center sponsors several events throughout the year.  In April the Central Louisiana Bluegrass Festival is a main attraction for people from all over Louisiana.  The summer months bring art, education and culture in focus with "Freedom in Reading" Literacy Camp and Art & Etiquette Camp in July. In August is the Stained Glass Camp.  Each year in October, Olla Home Coming is enjoyed by all.  The center allows for local singers and musicians to come together bi-monthly for enjoyable jam sessions. Quilting Workshops and a quilt show, art classes, a Community Christmas program and other events throughout the year are made possible through the CCC.

How can you help the Centennial Cultural Center?  Are you interested in sharing your own memories or artifacts by loan or donation?  Do you have valuable information to share with others concerning the history of the area?  Can you volunteer time at the center or during one of it's projects?  Would you like to support the center in their efforts by making a monetary donation?  The center is accessible in a number of ways.

View their web site: http://www.culturalcenter.us/index.html
Visit them:  Downtown Historic District 2962 Front Street Olla, Louisiana
Write to them:  Post Office Box 896,  Olla, Louisiana 71465
Call or fax them: Phone: (318) 495-7988  Fax: (318) 495-7988
E-mail them: cultural@centurytel.net
Find them on Facebook! http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=104000578883#!/pages/Centennial-Cultural-Center/104000578883

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