Small Nevada town community center is more than cultural hub
LAS VEGAS (AP) — About an hour drive south of Las Vegas, under a seemingly endless sky over a landscape void of much but Joshua trees and cactus, Searchlight rises out of the Mojave Desert.
The old mining town and childhood residence of former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is home to about 530 residents, many of whom live with scant amenities. Among the notables: an elementary school, Denny’s, McDonald’s and a senior center.
Then, there’s the Searchlight Community Center, a low slung, beige building that appears to be the epicenter of the town.
It houses a library, food bank, museum, meeting space, a Clark County Parks and Recreation satellite office and more.
Retiree Jodi Collingham visits the center multiple times a week, checking out books from the library, doing the cha cha to exercise videos or playing Mexican Train dominoes in the multipurpose room.
“I cannot believe this little town has this wonderful center,” said Collingham, who moved to Searchlight three years ago. “It’s all my entertainment ... If I couldn’t do this what else could I do? I’d just sit at home ... To me, it’s the most important building in town.”
Funding to maintain the center is hard-fought and infrequent, despite an average of 600 to 800 people using it monthly, said Richard deClercq, a Clark County recreation specialist for who works at the center. That helps explain why the parking lot outside the center, which was paved in the 1980s when it opened, is nothing more than gravel.
“There’s a great deal of people in Las Vegas who work in my department, who I’ve known for 15 years, who have no idea what happens at here,” deClercq told the Las Vegas Sun . ”(Searchlight) is one of those small towns on the outskirts, so they don’t really grasp exactly what we’re doing or what we try to do. That can become difficult when you’re trying to get funding for certain things.”
DeClercq tries to host about six to eight events a year, beaming with joy when he reflects on last year’s “trunk or treat” event in that same parking lot he wishes would be repaved. Community members decorated the hallways of the center and turned the multipurpose room into a carnival.
“We put a lot of work into it and tried to make it really nice,” he said.
With no grocery store in Searchlight, the center’s Colorado River Food Bank has become vitally important, serving about 89 clients, including 31 seniors, said Michele Brown, the food bank coordinator. They mostly provide canned food, such as vegetable, tuna, pasta, cereal and powdered milk.
“We do get meats. Right now we have ham and pork patties and a couple of turkeys and hamburger over there. So, it’s not a lot that they get but it’s enough,” she said.
The center also includes a branch of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.
Many Harry Reid Elementary School students spend the afternoon doing educational activities and eating a snack provided by the food bank. The school is located a few feet behind the community center.
The town’s middle school and high school students are bused 40 miles (64 kilometers) to Boulder City.
“When I first took over here, they said, it was very common that when the kids go to the middle school, that 50 percent of them or more can’t read — not ‘read at grade level’ — but can’t read,” said Kelli Carlson, a branch associate of the library who coordinates the after-school program. “As I look at them and it’s ‘help me with this on the computer’ and stuff like that, I’m seeing that that’s pretty much true. I’m seeing a fourth grader who is barely reading and a second-grade level.”
The Searchlight Museum is tucked into the far-right corner of the building and documents the town’s history, which includes Academy Award-winning costume designer Edith Head, silent film star Clara Bow and Reid, the 79-year-old former Senate Democratic party leader from Nevada.
While the museum is small, it brims with relics of the town’s past. There’s a piano that used to be at one of the town saloons; biographies of famous Searchlight residents; Native American pottery; Bow’s costume trunk; garments by Head.
Jane Overy is the town historian and director of the Searchlight Museum Guild.
Reid was a surprise visitor at Overy’s 80th birthday party in June 2017 at the center.
“Before I started collecting the history, it was just bar stories,” Overy said.
Janis Kostecky, who came to Searchlight from Lancaster, California, in 2014 to retire, almost immediately became a regular at the center.
It started with trips to play Yahtzee, then grew to visits to the museum and blossomed to volunteering.
Kostecky now serves on the Searchlight Town Advisory Board and helps Overy with the local archives.
Kostecky took every opportunity to immerse herself in Searchlight’s profound history, and it all started when she stepped through the community center doors.
“Our community built (the community center),” Kostecky said. “And we’re really proud to have it.”
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com