Brooke Lenhardt knows the need for a youth center in Marion because she experienced it firsthand.
“I went to high school in Marion, and there was nowhere for me to go with my friends — if I didn’t want to be at my parents’ house — that was a safe environment, and that was somewhat controlled,” she said. “There’s backcountry roads, or houses of people whose parents are not home.”
Years later, Lenhardt is a driving force behind efforts to create such a safe place for kids in the community. Lenhardt has led a group of volunteers trying to reconfigure the youth center after its facility was converted into Marion Resource Center and Food Bank this spring.
Lenhardt said making the youth center into a community center means cultivating an environment for adults as well.
“We’re wanting it to be like a community center, but with a youth focus,” she said. “It would be more open to the public. Churches could use it; Bible studies could be held there. Tabor College students could use it to study.”
Lenhardt said she wants the center to have a dual-identity as a place for kids to hang out, but also a place for adults to get what they need: coffee.
“We also want it to have a Starbucks coffee shop vibe,” she said. “With frappuccinos, machiattos, espressos — drinks that a lot of people that come from bigger towns are used to having.”
Lenhardt organized several successful summer fundraisers, namely a breakfast before a community church service after Chingawassa Days, a fireworks stand for July Fourth festivities, and a funnel cake stand at Art in the Park.
“We’ve raised close to $6,000 so far,” she said.
The money has helped, but to finance the type of operation Lenhardt aspires to, more active participation on part of the community will be required.
“Fundraisers are great for raising $500 at a time,” she said. “We really need people in the community who want to see the community grow, who want to see downtown Marion grow, who want to see the youth of Marion taken care of and are willing to invest money into this venture. We need people who want to see it happen.”
The youth center, still operating under the Marion Advancement Campaign, is looking for buildings in downtown Marion.
While it was difficult losing the old facility, Lenhardt said it could be a blessing for the youth center in the long run.
“It brought on a bunch of new ideas,” she said. “Our vision completely changed, and I think we’re more focused. I think God knew what He was doing in that. Hopefully we can see this through to something else coming out of it.”