Youth leading drive to start a youth center in town

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Youthful vision and energy are fueling the development of a new gathering place for youth in Hillsboro.

Members of an ad hoc committee of middle schoolers, with the help of a couple of adult supervisors, spent much of Saturday, Jan. 15 cleaning up and painting a room that Main Street Ministries has opened up for the project at the complex at 415 S. Main.

“I hope we give youth something to do in Hillsboro to stay out of trouble, get a wholesome place to hang put with your friends,” said Joe Fisher, an eighth-grader at HMS

“We might even help out with community issues. We’re kind of making it an entertainment place right now for the youth of Hillsboro.”

The idea to create a youth gathering place came from Fisher. He shared it with Tonja Wienck, HMS counselor, who suggested that they create a committee to work on the project.

Committee members came from the local Leo Club at first, then expanded beyond it. Working with Fisher on the committee these days are fellow middle schoolers Sam Bookless, John Hein, J. Michael Hiebert, Victoria Bichet, Hope Darting and Kim Spencer.

Fisher said the biggest challenge was finding a building for the center.

“We asked Lillian Bookless to come to one of our meetings and she said, ‘Yeah, we have a place for you at Main Street that you could start out in at least.'”

Bookless is the director of Main Street Ministries. While the center will be located in a room located in the lower level of the north annex of the complex, the center will not be not formally affiliated with Main Street Ministries.

On Saturday, committee members, plus Wienck and fellow adult Angie Regier, were busy cleaning and painting the former storage room, which measures about 20 feet by 15 feet.

“We’re going to try to get everything painted and put carpet down, and just make it look a little neater,” Fisher said.

The committee hopes to open the center in time for the school system’s spring break, which begins March 21.

Fisher and his helpers envision a finished product that will be an inviting place for young people-the target age is sixth grade through 12th grade-to play video games, watch television, play pool and mostly hang out with friends.

They plan some concessions available and they expect the outdoor basketball court on the Main Street Ministries campus will be a draw once the weather warms up.

“I think we’re also going to try to plan some dances-fun stuff like that that kids really like to do,” Fisher said.

Between now and the March target date for opening, Fisher and his committee will be gathering the furnishings they envision for the center. They hope people will donate most of the items, such as televisions, but Fisher said his committee will also be checking into possible funding sources

“We probably try to get some grants eventually, once we get started,” he said. “There’s organizations that we can get it from. We’re going to check into getting more grants as we go because we’re not sure exactly what we can get yet.”

The hours for the youth center haven’t been finalized yet but Fisher has some initial projections: from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays that don’t conflict with ball games, and to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays; and from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Fisher said his committee want to recruit some adults to manage the center when it is open.

“We’ll ask for volunteers and maybe find some Tabor College students who are looking for community-service hours,” he said.

Though Fisher has been the primary mover and shaker for the project, he is quick to share the credit.

“I have a great committee that has helped me,” he said.

Anyone wishing to donate money or furnishings to the cause can do so by contacting Main Street Ministries, which will collect the non-deductible contributions on behalf of the planning committee.

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