OUR PLACE seeing success in its new home

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By Panzi Blackwell

First impression from outside  – Young people of various sizes and ages happily entering the door of a downtown building in which several young people seem to be laughing and having fun, with several adults present.
Impression on entering – The room is well-illuminated, cheerful, colorful, clean and lively with young people playing assorted games, talking, stirring up cookie dough. Some are interacting with several adults, who obviously are enjoying the children enjoying just being children.
What, Where, Who, When and How?
OUR PLACE Youth Center is a safe environment for kids ages 8-17.
The kids, who had input in the planning of the center, named it OUR PLACE. Their input has resulted in a real interest, cooperation and, a sense of responsibility  for it. That has inarguably contributed to its longevity and success, when other prior attempts at such have failed.
• Where-Always located on Gallatin Street in Vandalia, it has recently moved to 507 W. Gallatin St.
• Who-It was originally conceived by Mary Ann Elam and Phyllis Rames as a safe place for youths to congregate, and soon became a project encouraged and assisted by the young people themselves.
• When- The center opened seven years ago, in 2003, and a youth center board was set up in 2005. The center is open to youth from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
• How-The center is made possible by concerned, caring and generous hearts of adults, and the young people’s continuing interest over the years.
Patty Sprague, president of the center’s board of directors, said, “The mission of OUR PLACE Youth Center – based on the principles of love, forgiveness and acceptance – is to educate, enrich and enlighten youth to become resourceful, responsible and respectable citizens of the community.
“Our vision statement is: The youth will be exposed in programs that will endeavor to fulfill the mission of OUR PLACE,” she said.
Current projects include the recreation center, “The Learning Link” and “Food for Thought.”
Sprague conducted a tour through the new site, which is owned by Dennis Grubaugh and to whom they are most grateful for his generosity in renovating the building and laying out the room according the OUR PLACE needs.
“It is perfectly suited for us,” Sprague said.
Another example of generosity is that of First United Methodist Church of Vandalia, which assumed responsibility for the rent of a site since the beginning.
There are four main areas – the “Learning Link” area, arts & crafts area, rec room and kitchen area.
Sprague said the kids work at and help bake cookies for their fundraising bake sales.
The tour included began at the sign-in table, where the kids register as they enter. A large window faces the street, and the young people anticipate decorating it with seasonal colors and items.
The walls are decorated with photographs of the kids, past and present, and other decorative items on colorful paper backgrounds.
A large, framed picture shows a solitary figure walking on stepping stones amidst a large body of water with the inspirational words, “Challenge-The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” reminding one of the humble beginnings of OUR PLACE.
The rec room holds a pool table, arcade games, ping pong table (in need of a roller or caster, before it can be used), and many other games, electronic and otherwise (including an old fashioned checkerboard on which two young adults were playing)
Free snacks, drinks and popcorn are also available.
Sprage said, “We made over $500 at a bake sale in June at the Walmart, and we were going to buy a pool table with the money.”
That story was shared at First National Bank’s Hometown Support luncheon. After the luncheon, John Ashdown of the Family YMCA of Fayette County donated a pool table, a ping-pong table and a foosball table.
“I would always say that I wished one (pool table) would ‘fall from the sky.’ Well, I guess the Lord heard me,” she said.
The center also has a “Quiet Room,” a smaller room in which one can sit quietly to listen to music, have a time of privacy or simply “calm down.”
Special Programs, Projects
• “Learning Link” was started in November 2006, by Rames.
This has proved to be a popular and valuable tutoring help for students who are struggling in reading. Rames serves as director and Neil Clark is the assistant director for this program.
It begins in October each year and sessions are held from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Teen tutors, along with adults, tutor students in second grade and on up.

• “Food for Thought” is a learning program sponsored by Soroptimist International of Vandalia. On the fourth Tuesday of every month, a representative of the Soroptomists show the youth, with a hands-on method, how to prepare a meal, then they enjoy eating it.
• “Girl Talk,” also led by the Soroptimists, will be a time for sharing “for girls only,” in the quiet room.;
• Arts & crafts class will meet on the third Tuesday of every month, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., beginning Sept. 21. It will be taught by Sharla Stewart.
• OPK & KICK (“OUR PLACE Kids” & “Kids in College at Kaskaskia”) started in June of this year. OUR PLACE pays class fees and provides transportation for OUR PLACE kids for summer programs at KC. This year’s participation: “Kids in the Kitchen”-one youth; arts & crafts-four youths; and cake decorating-three youths.
 Programs “in the works”
• “YMCA Night” will involve taking kids to the Y facility. The center will pay fees and provide transportation.
• “Guy Talk,” a counterpart to “Girl Talk.” The center is looking for a man to lead this.
Summing Up
OUR PLACE is the result of the involvement of caring individuals, the generosity of the community, faithful volunteers, and the continuing interest by and participation of the youth.
Sprague began with OUR PLACE in 2005 as secretary and became president in 2008. She has witnessed the growth of the project.
She credits all of the above for the success of OUR PLACE. Also, she said, “God is in it.”    
Attendance has remained constant, except for a surge of growth this year.
• 2008-911 visits and open 158 days.
• 2009-906 visits, 125 days. (Closed for two months due to construction work).
• 2010-981 visits, opened 98 days.
“That’s a lot of kids,” Sprague said.
“They sign in and are expected to follow expectations. One young man, Travis, let them know when he left, saying he was going to his grandparents.
“On hearing him say he was going to make a meat loaf, Joy Clymer, a Soroptimist member and volunteer, asked him to give them a list of the ingredients and OUR PLACE would have them (ingredients) for him to make a meat loaf there,” she said.
“Our volunteers are the life blood of OUR PLACE,” she said.
“We can always use more volunteer attendants and board members. We have one paid attendant, Vicky Murdock, and she is excellent,” Sprague said.
“We have had four other paid attendants, who all did a great job, but for various reasons, had to resign.”
Alongside the paid attendant is one volunteer; each volunteer usually serves once a month. They add variety, support, wisdom and individual experience to the youth.
Many have contributed to the support of OUR PLACE, including businesses, organizations and individuals. Sprague said, “To God be The glory, great things He has done!”
You are Invited…
… to the OUR PLACE open house, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., on Saturday, Sept. 25, which is also Corn Day in Vandalia. Sprague said said, “Come see our beautiful new building. We will have a bake sale, cookies, brownies, corn muffins and homemade caramel corn, and also canned drinks and water for sale. We will be offering free popcorn.  Monetary donations will be welcomed, accepted, and appreciated.”
NOTE: The OUR PLACE building is available for church youth groups, birthday parties, reunions and meetings. For more information, call Sprague at 283-1387.