A safe place for Marion’s youth to “hang out” is coming to downtown Marion.
The 2021-2022 class of Leadership Marion! launches the Marion WEC Community Center in the Withrow Equity Center on West Church Street.
The idea was formed in 2020 after several incidents with young people in the community becoming involved in criminal and gang activity, and a group of leaders in Marion began to think of ways to protect the children and stay out of trouble.
One such leader, Erin Slater, who at the time was director of Marion Mentors through the Marion Family YMCA, came up with the idea of a community center to give young people and teens a safe place to hang out. time and build positive relationships with older volunteers.
“I come from a mentoring background, so I’ve seen the impact a one-on-one relationship can have on a young person and a mentor, and maybe it’s not even an official mentoring relationship, but these passing mentoring relationships,” says Slater.
It’s an idea she got from working in the building when it was a leisure center years ago.
“I got to see firsthand how it helped some young people in that area and those demographics – they were able to just come in, hang out, play, didn’t need all the parental permission forms, didn’t didn’t need to be in a structured program, it was just kind of a safe place to come and hang out,” she said.
What started with momentum had several setbacks, and Slater said the project was “put on the back burner” with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and leadership changes throughout the community.
It wasn’t until Slater, who is now Recreation and Environmental Programs Coordinator at Ohio State University at Marion, participated in Leadership Marion! through the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce that the project regained strength when the cohort chose to launch the new youth center as an annual community project.
Although there have been informal discussions for several years regarding the need in the community to fill the gaps for youth, Leadership Marion! class conducted a survey of 350 Marion County youth to find out their greatest needs and what they would like to see in downtown Marion for students.
Led by Committee Chairs Slater and fellow Leadership Marion! Ohio State graduate and employee Marion Mathematics Professor John Maharry, the survey found that the top desire for the majority of children was to have activities and a place to just “hang out.”
Maharry said he sees the center as part of this youth-focused development.
“It’s also part of the overall mission to revitalize downtown, create more activity and make it a more welcoming place,” he said.
“There have been a lot of new events and activities that are more adult-centric downtown than middle school, so this will be a good place to positively attract young people to downtown and change in a way their image of what the city center can be.”
Beyond a safe place to hang out, the survey found that young people needed food after school and would be interested in having people to talk to in formal or informal mentoring roles.
Those needs must also be met by the center, and Slater previously helped oversee the location as a summer food site last June and July.
Slater said it’s been encouraging to see the community come together to help with the center, and she’s already seen incredible support from other organizations with the food program. The goal of the center is to bring organizations together and fill accessibility gaps.
For example, Maharry explained, the Y has great programming, but the YMCA isn’t the most accessible for a high school student on foot or by bike.
“That’s never to say that organizations that are already established aren’t doing great, amazing things in the community, it’s really about bringing organizations that are already doing great things together in one centralized location,” Slater said.
While the center is expected to serve many schools in the city of Marion due to its centralized downtown location, it caters to all young people in Marion County.
In July, a meeting was held to bring the community together to launch the WEC Community Center, and representatives from the YMCA, Marion City Schools, Leadership Marion! and the entire Marion community came together to discuss a launch date and what programming for 12-18 year olds would look like.
As for the schedule, the group is opting for what Maharry called a “slow rollout” and will form a “youth council”, allowing youth voices to make decisions about programming so leaders know what children and teenagers would like.
He also said leaders expected to have more connections to help with the rollout with the start of the school year.
“In the near future we are going to have an open house, an open gym, as we want to call it, without the programming involved until this youth council is up and running,” Maharry said.
“As John mentioned, we really want to involve youth voices in this project, so that’s kind of our next step,” Slater agreed.
As Slater and Maharry work at Ohio State Marion, there may be opportunities for social work students to have internships with the center in the future, and management is looking for other groups who may want to get involved to to help.
Slater explained that she hopes the center will have ripple effects within the community and that the investment will encourage students to one day reinvest in Marion themselves.
“We’re really trying to provide that space where young people maybe just need an extra place to hang out, get to know other people, have influential members of the community there that they can see, whatever. something they may not be used to. see every day,” she said.
“Hopefully we will see a decrease in crime among young people, but also in success in school and outside of school.”
For more information on the center, visit its The Facebook page.
Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 – 5243 ∣ firstname.lastname@example.org