A Whitley County nonprofit is bringing new programming to area middle and high school students in 2018 as part of its outreach.

The Center for Whitley County Youth started in 2005 and hosts a variety of youth development programs throughout the week for local students.

It first started engaging young people by offering high school students a safe place to hang out after football games. Since then, The Center has started a variety of programming, including after-school programs.

These programs are designed to create a connection between students and caring adults, said executive director Jeff Wike. Students are mentored, get homework help, play games, have a healthy snack and do creative activities. Last year, The Center served more than 400 students from 18 schools.

Wike has been with The Center since the beginning and has found it to be a good fit for him.

“I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to reach young people. You constantly have to keep reinventing things and figuring out ways to tweak and grow and improve,” he said.

One of the ways The Center is hoping to tweak its programming this year is to offer students more STEAM activities. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

The Center is exploring ways to add one to two STEAM activities per week to its after-school programs. Wike wants to bring in people from the community to engage students in fun, hands-on activities that incorporate STEAM. The Center is looking to build partnerships with others in the community to offer these activities. So far, community partners 4-H and Blue River Digital have stepped up to participate in the programming.

The Center would also like to start offering coding and is looking for people who might be willing to lead coding activities.

Offering students more STEAM activities, like coding, is important because skills like these will be valuable in the future job market, Wike said. Equipping students with tools to succeed can open up opportunities for students while helping bridge the skills gap that local employers are struggling with, he said.

This year, The Center is also exploring ways to offer its after-school programming to students in Churubusco and South Whitley by either transporting students to Columbia City or reproducing a version of the programs in these communities, Wike said.

This fall, The Center is launching a new program called The Landing. Described as “a judgement-free place for teens grades 6-12 to be real and deal with struggles such as fear, addiction, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, perfectionism, and any other hurts, habits and hangups,” The Landing is a national faith-based program with a pilot in Fort Wayne. Wike said he’s been trying to bring The Landing program to The Center for three years.

“The idea is it’s creating this safe place for students who are struggling with loneliness, addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, divorce or family struggles. A lot of times, kids don’t have an outlet where they’re not getting judged for their problems,” he said.

The Landing’s launch in Columbia City this fall is made possible by funding from the Lutheran Foundation.

Wikes said The Center is always looking for volunteers to serve in a variety of roles to help maximize the impact of its programming. More than 60 adults from the community volunteer at The Center at least weekly or monthly, but closer to 90 volunteers are needed, he said.

For more information, call The Center at (260) 248-4977 or visit www.thecentercc.com.