Honoring Kansas City Italians! Dr. J. B. Bisceglia

Oct 27, 2015 876

In 1908, the Northeast Community Center founded its roots in the Italian Mission founded by Kansas City's Central Presbyterian Church. The work began in a small frame building at 505 Forest, where most of the city's Italian immigrants passed through for medical care, English lessons, child care and education.

In 1918, Dr. J. B. Bisceglia arrived in Kansas City, having completed his religious studies, to take up the work of the Italian Mission. With him came a passion to serve the immigrant population that spanned more than seven decades. With Dr. Bisceglia came not only passion but a new vision for the Mission – he looked toward a self-supporting congregation, a sanctuary for worship, a gymnasium in which youth could play safely and an endowment fund that would perpetuate the center's work for years to come.

Dr. Bisceglia began his work by establishing a kindergarten and nursery school for working mothers, which was not a standard in American education at the time. He also created scouting troops for boys and girls and organized youth sports leagues. He created classes for girls focusing on domestic skills when the immigrant culture he worked in traditionally did not continue education for girls. The Mission also offered language courses and adult literacy classes. Probably most important to the immigrant population, Dr. Bisceglia organized a free clinic drawing on the talents of leaders in the Kansas City healthcare community.

In 1926, Dr. Bisceglia began publishing Il Messaggero (The Messenger), a bilingual religious and educational publication, which served the Italian community for more than sixty years. In keeping with his desire to preserve the Italian culture, Dr. Bisceglia taught Italian to adults and led literary groups in reading Italian classics. He also taught Italian to students at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music for over 40 years.

In 1941, in keeping with his vision for the Italian Mission and thanks to donations secured from the ladies of the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Bisceglia was able to build the Northeast Community Center at its current site at 544 Wabash. The Italian Mission relocated to the new building and continued its work as the Community Center.

In 1946, the ladies of the Presbyterian Church gave another donation to build a sanctuary adjacent to the Center – it is now Christ Presbyterian Church. NECC and Christ Presbyterian Church continued their work hand-in-hand to meet the educational, social, spiritual and economic needs of the Italian immigrant population and of the Northeast Community at large.

In 1988, Dr. Bisceglia passed away and his son-in-law, Judge Charles Shangler, took the lead in the future of the Northeast Community Center, which became known for a time as the Bisceglia Cultural Center. By this time Bisceglia's third dream was fulfilled by a church parishioner who, along with his family, left an endowment to support the Community Center and Church in the future.

In 1995, under the leadership of Judge Shangler, the Northeast Community Center turned its attention to the growing need for quality schools in Kansas City. Christ Presbyterian Church made available to the Northeast Community Center grounds no longer needed for worship purposes, but essential for the Center's growing educational role.

In 1999, the Charter School Law was enacted by Missouri Legislature, and NECC was granted a charter to open Scuola Vita Nuova, or the School of New Life. Judge Shangler founded the school and became its major benefactor from the beginning. He saw it as a way to continue his father-in-law's good works in the neighborhood. His desire was to encourage the arts and he planned to enhance the buildings with historical and cultural beauty. The school began with kindergarten through third grade.

In 2014, the Scuola Vita Nuova, after enjoying 14 successful years on our campus, expanded and relocated to the location of the former Don Bosco charter high school on Garfield Avenue. Today it holds 200 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

In 2015, the Northeast Community Center launched Harmony Project KC, an intensive music education program for low-income children in Northeast Kansas City. Its mission is to promote the healthy development of children through music. To build healthy communities. To develop children as ambassadors of peace, hope and understanding. The program is an affiliate of the acclaimed Harmony Project of Los Angeles.

(History courtesy of www.necc-kc.org)

Source: Kansas City Italians

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