Multicultural Family Center in Dubuque a 'hoppening' place - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Multicultural Family Center in Dubuque a 'hoppening' place

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — What started as a dance class with a couple of kids has grown into a gem for the Multicultural Family Center.

Garrick Johnson II came to the Multicultural Family Center in the summer of 2012. He was looking for ways to get involved in the community outside of his job as a quality engineer with John Deere Dubuque Works.

"I felt like I needed an outlet," Johnson said. "I really wanted to give back (to the community)."

Johnson grew up in St. Louis and was very involved in the community there. When looking at local volunteer opportunities, he was drawn to the Multicultural Family Center.

"MFC promoted unity through diversity and it's something I really cherish," he said.

He decided to start a hip-hop dance class that has grown substantially more popular, both with adults and children.

"He's a huge asset for us," said Sarah Peterson, assistant director of the Multicultural Family Center. "The classes have really taken off in the last two years."

Johnson said he performed praise dance at his church starting at a young age. He said he picked up hip-hop dancing informally through choreography, performing at events and by teaching classes and honing his skills.

Peterson said those observing Johnson's classes definitely regard his skills as professional level. However, she said skill isn't the only thing that makes his classes special.

"He empowers youth and builds self-confidence, not just in the area of dance, but in life," Peterson said. "He teaches them that they can do and be anything they want to be."

Johnson said he tries to make the class upbeat and fun for his students. It's a fun way for him to unwind after work as well, he said.

Peterson said the class has grown so much the center now offers beginner and advanced child classes as well as adult classes. She said the classes are free, but participants need to preregister.

Johnson's involvement at the Multicultural Family Center extends beyond the dance classes. Peterson said he frequently attends events hosted at the center and often volunteers at the center's weekly teen night. That program mixes educational topics and speakers with fun activities and field trips.

"He's so busy with his day job and he still finds the time to be a leader and mentor," Peterson said.

Johnson is also a youth mentor with the Dubuque Black Men Coalition, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/1EHh6nm ) reports.

Andre Lessears, training and workforce development coordinator for the City of Dubuque, said he and Johnson work monthly with Dubuque Senior High School students on topics such as setting realistic goals, navigating high school life and learning how to be successful in school.

"I think the best quality about Garrick is his enthusiasm is contagious," Lessears said. "He has a very good way of connecting with young people that not many young adults his age make time for."

Lessears praised Johnson's ability to relate to the boys he is mentoring and talk to them in a way that makes them want to listen. He said Johnson leads by example, sharing the mentoring he had while growing up in St. Louis that helped him to be successful.

The Black Men Coalition also provides a support network as those students get older to help them transition into adult lives.

"For (Johnson) to try to give back because of the role models he had in his life, that tells you it means a whole lot to him," Lessears said.

Peterson said Johnson's community involvement has led to a nomination for a Resources Unite outstanding volunteer award. The winner will be announced during a ceremony Thursday, March 26.

Johnson said being a community servant is an important part of his life.

"A lot of people have given back to me and instilled a lot of things in me and I want to do the same for others," Johnson said.
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