MYRTLE CREEK — Students next year will have a place to do homework and play games at a new youth center in the Elks Lodge.
Organizers plan a weeklong trial run this summer and to permanently open the center in September.
“We are still in the infancy of building the program. We are looking at ways to appeal to (teenagers),” said the lodge’s exalted ruler, Mike Rhodes, a youth center board member.
The center — housed in two rooms at the Elks Lodge, 106 S. Main St. — will operate from 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
A large room used for banquets and community events will serve students in kindergarten to sixth grade. An adjoining room will be the teen center.
Organizers hope to serve at least 100 kids, Rhodes said.
A 13-member board of directors — two of which are student representatives — oversees the budding center. Tri City resident Paulette Jones, president of the board, said she is looking into hiring a paid director to monitor day-to-day operations.
The center recently received a $2,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation to buy art and school supplies. It put $100 toward purchasing used books from Mostly Books, which is scheduled to close next week.
So far, the center has collected about $3,200, Jones said.
Students who attend the center will be expected to check-in and launch into homework or a study group, Jones said. The center plans to work with schools to help individual students. Tutors will be available, and students will be able to gain points by completing their homework and purchase items from an Elks store.
South Umpqua High School junior Sam Murray, a student representative on the board, said there aren’t many after-school programs in the area.
“A lot of kids in high school, when we get home, we don’t do anything,” Murray said. “The center will be a nice place for friends to hang out and do homework.
“I’m excited about it. I hope it does really well,” he said.
The idea for the center started last spring. Jones said she was looking at the Myrtle Creek police logs and saw that seven students had been arrested over spring break.
She initially went to the City Council and asked it to form a youth coalition to keep kids out of trouble. She said she then realized the whole community should help.
“I thought at first the city should step up and do something about it, and now, I think it’s the community’s responsibility,” she said.
Jones started developing the youth center program and took it to the Elks Lodge board. “They chewed it over for a while before they agreed. Then, I sent out requests for board members,” she said.
The teen center will feature couches, video games, computers, field trips and movie days.
“We want to make it comfortable for them, so it’s inviting,” Jones said. “We think it’s worthwhile and gives the kids a space and gets them excited about the area.”
The center plans to host career days each month at which community members will talk to teens about skills needed in the job force.
Students will also develop life skills, such as balancing a check book and counting back change, and focus on dating and healthy relationships, mutual respect, self-worth and decision making.
High school students are required to accumulate volunteer hours to graduate. A volunteer program will be available to help students reach their mark, as well as a mentor club that will report to various community councils and organizations. “We want to try to make that fun, instead of a task,” Jones said.
Jones also plans to work with the Myrtle Creek Historical Society.
“One of the main goals is getting students interested in their area,” she said. “We want them to go off and become educated and bring that back to build a richer community.”
Rhodes said a lot of people have expressed interest in volunteering at the center.
“We have gotten nothing but support from the community,” he said.
Some businesses and individuals have already expressed interest in sponsoring a child to attend the center. The cost to attend will be $15 per month.
“Personally, I think (the center) is a great asset to the community,” Rhodes said. “I’m looking at it like the sky’s the limit.”
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.