COLUMBIA CITY— The Center for Whitley County Youth is continuing to grow and expand to meet the needs of the community.

The Center serves middle and high school students with the aim of promoting youth development through service, outreach and collaboration.

“We do meals, homework help, games, mentoring, small group discussion, leadership training and job training,” said Jeff Wike, executive director. “All of those things are good but the goal of the programs are to give kids a reason to come and do something while we surround them with caring adults, mainly Christ-following adults, to build relationships with kids.”

The building that the Center currently occupies belonged to Community of Hope Church. After the congregation grew out of the building in 2004, it moved two blocks north to Jackson Street. Instead of selling the old building to pay for the new one, church members decided to wait and pray about what they should do with it.

“Out of that process it became clear that there was a need to connect with young people in the community outside of a school environment,” Wike said.

There were other people and groups, including the Community Foundation of Whitley County, that were also looking for a way to reach out to the youth in the community. Through those partnerships, The Center for Whitley County Youth was born.

Wike was hired as the director of the Center in January 2005, and the Center officially became its own organization in December 2006, when it was legally separated from the Community of Hope Church.

Since the beginning “it has been incremental growth, adding layers of programming and activities when we saw opportunities,” Wike said.

The Center served 398 students last year through its many programs.

Two of the programs the Center offers give students the opportunity to meet after school. After School Central is a program for middle school students that offers mentoring, homework help, games, creative activities and snacks. After School Serve happens at the same time, but is for high school-age kids. While there, the high school students serve the middle school students by mentoring, offering homework help, planning activities and running games.

“Because of the variance of things that happen in the building, there is a place for every kind of kid here to get involved and to grow,” Wike said.

Not only does the Center house its own programs, but the building is also home to other organizations, such as Youth for Christ and the Warehouse Church.

The Warehouse Church hosts events at the Center such as the Forklift, a free community meal on Mondays; the Line, a free meal for middle and high school students Tuesdays through Fridays; and the X-Change, a youth ministry on Wednesday nights.

Starting this school year, The Center will be offering the Landing, a spiritual and emotional support program for middle and high school students who are dealing with hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Partnering with Whitko

The Center will also be kicking off programing for the Whitko school district.

Leaders had been thinking about reaching out to Whitko schools for years, but were waiting until they had enough community support to be able to create and sustain a program.

Feeling the timing was right, the Center and Youth for Christ teamed together to hire Shawna Miller to run the Campus Life and the Center programs in Whitko.

Miller runs Campus Life for seventh- and eighth-graders during Cat’s Pride. Then, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, she will be in charge of After School Central and After School Serve for the Whitko students at the Center’s short-term location in the former Brownstone restaurant building on State Street in South Whitley, with a tentative launch at the end of October.

Wike said Whitko schools are excited for the Center to start a program and will be offering to shuttle students to the South Whitley location for the after-school programs.

“We get no government money, so our whole budget is completely funded charitably,” Wike said. “The only way we do what we do is because churches, businesses and families write checks and support us because they believe in what we are doing.”

The Community Foundation is one of those organizations that supports the Center, and it awarded the Center a $17,000 grant earlier this year. The grant was given in two parts. The first was a $7,000 one-for-one match toward raising support for its Whitko programs.

“If we raise $7,000, then the Community Foundation adds another $7,000 to that,” Wike said.

Wike said they will be reaching out to donors to begin raising support for the Whitko programs to meet the matching grant.

The second part is a $10,000 one-for-one matching grant to repair the building.

“There are some issues in the building that we need to address,” Wike said.

Two of the major repairs are fixing the leaking roof and getting a back-up generator to keep water out of the basement. The total budget for building repairs is $55,000.

Making a difference

Wike said the way to measure the impact the Center has made on the community is to look at the difference it has made in individual students’ lives.

Bethany Dixon is one of those students. Dixon started going to the Center in sixth grade for its Summer Central program. Then, in high school, she became involved with After School Serve.

During her time there, the Center impacted her faith the most, but also helped her become more outgoing, she said.

“My favorite thing about the Center is that as soon as you walk in the doors you feel loved and accepted,” Dixon said. “Everyone is loved regardless of who they are or what they have done.”

Though she graduated high school in May, she decided to continue being involved at the Center through volunteering.

“The Center gave a lot to me and this is a very good way for me to give back,” Dixon said. “It has been such an amazing experience to be a part of and has been such a blessing.”

The students that the Center currently serves will soon be neighbors, employees and parents in the Whitley County community.

“Our goal is to meet kids where they are at and mentor and lead them to become the best version of who they can be,” Wike said.