In the winter of 2008 St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Syracuse, Indiana, adopted a strategic planning approach to community outreach. That spring they conducted a door-to-door survey of 223 homes, to determine the perceived needs of people in the greater Syracuse Indiana area. The survey demonstrated that many people, both parents, and non-parents, believe that youth needed something to do during their free time.
To address these needs, St. Andrew’s funded the formation of a public charity in September of 2009, called Syracuse Community Youth Initiative, Inc. The Syracuse Community Youth Initiative became a collaborative effort, drawing resources from other not-for-profits, churches, service clubs, private individuals, foundations, and government funds. We began meeting in the Syracuse Community Center every Thursday, from 3:30 – 7 p.m.
In the spring of 2014, we officially changed our name to “Rock Solid Teen Center,” with plans to eventually expand our mission to share our insights and experience with parties interested in starting a youth center in mid to small towns and communities beyond the greater Syracuse area.
In the winter of 2015, we moved to the Wawasee High School cafeteria. We were grateful for the use of space, but we needed a location with more storage and designated space. We met at All Saints Episcopal Church and later, Wawasee Baptist Church. Numbers continued to decline in Syracuse, as a good location plays a key role in attracting youth to attend. Our Syracuse affiliate closed due to the COVID-19 shutdown and has not reopened.
Discussions were started with the Rinker Boat Company to purchase their old fitness center for $1. After presenting a business plan, Rinker indicated that they were agreeable to the purchase. However, about a week before signing the contract, Polaris purchased Rinker Boat Company. Originally they told us to move ahead with our plans but eventually withdrew the offer. The Polaris Foundation has a policy of not supporting nonprofits that have a faith component. It will forever be an opportunity missed.
The Board concluded that a one-day-a-week program in a church facility is not a viable approach. Rock Solid Teen Centers need to meet in a facility with designated space. As a result, we suspended our Syracuse affiliate until a more ideal location could be found.
In the fall of 2019, we completed renovations of the “Firehouse” building, our North Manchester location. The building is owned by the town, and the Fire House Committee assists us in paying utilities by raising funds to rent out the facility. Although not an exact model of our generic teen center, it’s very similar and has all the components of our model design:
Lessons learned from our two years of managing a facility with dedicated space include necessary changes to our facility: