Teens in northwest Kosciusko and southeast Elkhart counties will have a place to call their own as the Syracuse Community Youth Initiative is one step closer to achieving its dream of a youth center, thanks to a donation from a local church.
In August, members of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church voted to donate a 150-foot by 250-foot plot of land, valued at $60,000, so the youth center can be built. The land currently serves as a ball diamond.
Rock Solid, a program for teens, has been the youth initiative’s focus for the past three years. The youth center will allow it to expand from one to six days a week and will be a place for teens in middle and high school to gather.
“Youth have a lot of structured activities,” Youth Initiative Director Mark Eastway said. “They need a place to go to unwind.”
Rock Solid currently meets after school Thursdays and provides tutors and mentors who meet with and encourage teens. Teens receive homework help, play games and socialize in a supervised environment.
Acquiring the land was only one step. Rock Solid will now need to raise the funds necessary for building a center that will serve the needs of the local community and beyond.
The organization is currently in the grant application stage. They have applied for a grant from the Kosciusko County Community Foundation and grants from several area foundations, with the goal of matching. In addition, they hope to enlist the help of the local community, including service clubs, the town of Syracuse, the chamber of commerce, churches and other youth programs.
According to Eastway, the youth initiative hopes to enter the building for consideration as a senior design project, in which architectural students nationwide compete to come up with the best design for a proposed structure. They have also considered having Wawasee High School’s building trades class involved with the construction process.
“We want young people to be a part of that,” Eastway said.
Creating a youth center requires a lot of research. Rock Solid is doing all it can to make sure the new center will fit the needs of the community. The organization has studied several area youth programs and has worked with Elkhart County Boys & Girls Club CEO Kevin Deary.
“We said, we want to do what he’s doing because it’s very successful,” Eastway said.
Rock Solid has been research-driven since day one. Back in 2008, St. Andrew’s polled more than 200 local households plus 264 high school students to find out what they felt the greatest community need was. The response overwhelmingly found in favor of a community youth program.
While St. Andrew’s initially got the project going, the youth initiative is actually a separate entity, apart from the church.
“It’s not what do we want to do,” Eastway said. “It’s what does the community think?”
The youth initiative began in 2009 and launched Rock Solid in 2010. They continue to keep track of students’ progress in school as they participate in the program.
“We want to see how we’re doing, that we’re making a difference,” Eastway said.
The future youth center will include a commons, a kitchen, game area, homework and computer space, an administrative area, multipurpose gym, a lobby and a check-in area. Rock Solid hopes to have everything in place by 2014 so they can begin construction on the building.