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Youth Center to open on Saturdays

Staff writer

Saturday night was game night at the Youth Center in Marion, as 14 Marion High School students came out to hang out and play board games with a new staff of volunteers.

Justin and Brooke Lenhardt and six other volunteers helped put on the event, which ran from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Brooke Lenhardt wants to begin opening the Youth Center every Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight. She was encouraged by the turnout Saturday night, but has higher ambitions.

“I would love to see 50 kids here on a Saturday night hanging out,” she said. “I’d like it to be busy enough where people are comfortable and they don’t feel like the focus is on them. They can just kind of blend in and do their own thing. The vibe we’re going for is really a coffee shop atmosphere.”

Most coffee shops don’t have basketball hoops and Playstation 3 among various other attractions.

Justin Lenhardt, 25, is a paraeducator at the high school, and Brooke Lenhardt, 22, is a hairdresser at Signatures Salon.

Brooke Lenhardt was a junior at Marion High School when the Youth Center was purchased by the Marion Advancement Campaign in 2008. She helped to fix it up then, but it didn’t become operational before she graduated.

The Lenhardts had been living in Marion since January of 2014. After doing mission work with youths in the Czech Republic over the summer, Brooke Lenhardt said she and her husband felt a calling from God to work with youth in their own community.

She didn’t know it had been turned into the Swamp Fox Country Club, a social club started by Economic Development Director and MAC board member Terry Jones.

She said Jones was supportive when they approached him about volunteering there.

She said she hadn’t read the article on Jones’ business in the Marion County Record.

“To put it in blatant terms, I mean, it was God,” she said. “People see coincidence, where I just see God working.”

Saturday was the second time the Lenhardts used the Youth Center, as they hosted what Brooke Lenhardt called a “mini launch to test the waters” on Halloween. Only five kids showed.

So the Lenhardts ramped up their efforts.

“We’ve been talking to different high school students for the last couple of months, getting tables and chairs and donations to get it to be a usable facility, because it was pretty bare,” Brooke Lenhardt said.

Brooke Lenhardt’s brother Jarrett Johnson is a sophomore at MHS, but that’s the only family tie the Lenhardts have to the students. She said they’re looking to avoid recruiting parents and teachers as volunteers.

“If parents want to support the Youth Center for their children, donations like equipment, tables, chairs, or money, that’s really where we’re looking for help,” she said. “We want it to be something students aren’t experiencing every single day.”

Concessions were sold at Saturday’s event. Lenhardt said it’s difficult for the Youth Center to break even given that it doesn’t charge admission. MAC owns the building and allows the Youth Center to rent it for free.

“While the building is free, it’s not free to be here,” Brooke Lenhardt said, citing utilities and insurance payments.

She said if the number of kids increases, the Youth Center could become profitable from concession sales.

Mostly, though, she just wants to make it a place in the community where kids can go and be themselves.

“It has a lot of potential I think,” she said.

Last modified Jan. 22, 2015

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