Press Releases  |  6.27.2024

Challenger Center Partners with the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama to Open Challenger Learning Center

WASHINGTON DC — JUNE 27, 2024 — Challenger Center and the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama (CFNEA) are teaming up to establish a Challenger Learning Center in the state of Alabama. Challenger Learning Center of Northeast Alabama will be situated in Rainbow City, Etowah County, serving students from both public and private schools across 12 counties: Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, DeKalb, Etowah, Jefferson, Marshall, Randolph, St. Clair, and Talladega.

“We are thrilled to introduce a Challenger Learning Center to Alabama and provide their students with our exceptional STEM experiences,” said Lisa Vernal, Vice President of Communications and Center Relations at Challenger Center. “For over 38 years, we’ve designed and delivered programs aimed at igniting students’ curiosity in STEM fields. We eagerly anticipate extending this opportunity to Alabama and contributing to their efforts in shaping the future workforce.”

CFNEA and a local Alabama Advisory Council collaborated to make the Challenger Learning Center project a reality, recognizing the significant role a meaningful STEM education has in building a robust workforce.

“The Advisory Council and our community partners are committed to providing a unique learning facility that complements Alabama’s educational and workforce initiatives. Fiscal support from federal, state, and local legislative delegations, along with our surrounding communities, have made this opportunity a reality. This Challenger Learning Center is the right fit at the right time for students of all ages and will foster partnerships with businesses and industries in our region to widen the STEM pipeline,” said Barry A. Cherry, business owner and Chairman of the Advisory Council.

Most recently, a $2.4 million Congressionally Directed Spending award was secured through the efforts of Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) to bolster plans for the Challenger Learning Center further.

“The sheer magnitude of securing $11 million to build the facility and bring a Challenger Learning Center to Northeast Alabama requires many people willing to work together. As the fiscal sponsor, the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama (CFNEA) is contributing our financial, philanthropic, and management expertise to the collaboration. The Advisory Council formed a nucleus of individuals, legislators, city and county governments, businesses, Challenger Center staff, CFNEA, and many others to make this STEM center a reality for the children in Alabama. We are proud to be a part of this endeavor,” said Jennifer S. Maddox, President & CEO of the CFNEA.

Joining a global network of Challenger Learning Centers that have impacted over 6 million children worldwide, the new Center will offer a range of hands-on STEM programs. At its core are simulated space-themed missions conducted in fully immersive Space Station, Mission Control, Transport, and Briefing Rooms.

Construction on the building that will house the Challenger Learning Center is scheduled to begin this fall with a grand opening targeted for late 2025.

About the Challenger Learning Center Advisory Council
In 2022, an Advisory Council was formed to spearhead the possibility of opening a Challenger Learning Center in Northeast Alabama. The Council is made up of 15 businessmen and women working together to ensure feasibility, garner stakeholder support, fundraise, and facilitate the application and build process for the future location.

About the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama
The Community Foundation uses donor gifts to grow funds that benefit the community forever. Each year the Community Foundation awards millions of dollars in grants and scholarships throughout the nine counties it serves in Northeast Alabama. We make philanthropic dreams come true. Our mission is to achieve positive change through the generosity of donors, now and for generations to come. Learn more about the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama at

About Challenger Center
As a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Challenger Center provides more than 250,000 students annually with experiential education programs that engage students in hands-on learning opportunities. These programs, delivered in Challenger Learning Centers and classrooms, strengthen knowledge in STEM subjects and inspire students to pursue careers in these important fields. Challenger Center was created by the Challenger families to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51-L.