Student Center Reopens and Honors the Life of DHS Graduate

There are 6 different seating areas for groups of different sizes.

Last year, if a student needed time alone, someone to talk to, a nap, a change of clothes, or a snack, they could get a pass to go to the Student Center. However, instead of finding a nurturing space, the student would have entered a largely empty room with a few desks and maybe a granola bar. Fortunately, The Joe Fund, the Decatur Education Foundation (DEF), and Diane Andree saw the need for a change.

On May 5, 2021, a group of about 20 people gathered behind a ribbon, excitedly peeking over into the unrecognizable space behind it. After four years of gradual progress and then a couple months of complete demolition and renovations, the Student Center resembles more of a cozy coffee shop than a classroom. This room was created almost entirely by student input, but it has a deeper significance to the school as well, as it is also an initiative to honor Joe Bodine.

Joe was a 2015 DHS graduate and a beloved family and community member. Tragically, in May 2016, he lost his battle against addiction. Soon after, his family and DEF started the Joe Fund to support adolescent mental health and educate others about addiction. Renovating the Student Center is one of the many ways they are working to offer help to others with mental health needs.

“My hope has always been that students and their families will find the help they need to stop other tragedies from happening, like what happened to Joe and thus my family and all that loved him,” Joe’s mother Lori Heemann told the group, “In my head I’d like to think of this place as one of Joe’s hugs. All of you that knew Joe knew he gave great hugs.” 

Joe’s memory will live on in the space through its nickname, the “Bluebird Cafe,” named in honor of the bird that reminds Heemann of her son, and a portrait of him painted by his sister Lia Bodine. 

In 2016, Diane Andree was hired as the CSD Student Success Coordinator. Part of her job was to help make the dream of a Student Center a reality. “This was such an important initiative,” Andree said, “because while we knew there were interventions that were needed, we also really wanted to be on the prevention side. We realized there were students who needed types of support beyond just academic intervention.” 

The Student Center will offer this support through comfortable places to study, relax, be alone, and receive individual and small group counseling. According to Andree, with the school system’s support, there are now one and a half therapists on staff, which has broken down accessibility barriers of cost so that no student will be unable to receive help. 

“This project is so important to our students and the school. We know our students need support, and in a world that is chaotic on any given day, but especially during this pandemic, our needs are going to be increased.”

“It is still really hard for young people and adults to get the help they need when they are struggling,” said DEF Executive Director Gail Rothman at the ribbon cutting. She hopes Joe’s story and the new center will eliminate some of these challenges.

Lauren Pelissier is a DEF board member, CSD parent, and designer by trade who was brought into the project to design a space the kids wanted to spend time in. She did that by creating student focus groups and getting their input about what would make it a comfortable and safe space for them. 

“I had, in spiritual ways, many conversations with Joe as I was working in the room, trying to get to know who he was. Together we built this space; I truly believe Joe is channelled through a lot of the stuff in here and I know he will live in this space for eternity…Joe is here,” Pelissier said to Joe’s family. “That makes me really happy, I miss him so much,” Joe’s grandmother responded.

DHS students told Pelissier they wanted the environment of a coffee shop with a lot of natural palettes and wood. She was delighted that she was actually able to obtain the furniture from Ebrik Coffee’s physical store when it closed. “This furniture has a lot of great energy and it’s exactly what the kids wanted,” she shared.

“The one plus for me about COVID was that the buildout was able to happen,” Andree said. When asked what her favorite part of the room was, she said “My favorite part about the space is that it’s what you guys wanted. It is a place for students, by students, and to support students.”

The initiative that started at the high school is now a Pre-K through 12 initiative, and Andree shared that a physical center in the middle school is in the works, and that they are currently collecting “student voice” through surveys.

After the meaningful speeches came to a close, the ribbon was cut and the group could explore the room freely. Inside the warmly lit space is a coffee bar, group seating areas of different sizes, a large sectional couch, and a clothes closet in the corner. The “Green Closet” is for anybody; if you have to change clothes for any reason, you can go there and keep the clothes you change into. “Professionals in the community have donated suits so the students have appropriate clothes for job and college interviews,” Andree said, explaining the multiple ways the closet can help the students. 

What we most want people in the community to know is that we don’t want this to just be a beautiful space, which it is, we want it to be a healing space, a space where students can breathe, take a break, meditate, get help, talk, seek connection, not feel isolated, or be by themselves. We want it to be all those things,” Gail Rothman said.

Heemann hopes that this will be a place for “Joe’s of the world.” “The goal was a welcoming place with all kinds of programs of support for all kinds of students. And I know Joe would be proud of what we’ve done here and happy to have been of some help.”


How you can help: 

You can always donate clean, lightly used clothes to the Green Closet.

To support Joe’s Fund, go to: