I grew up in a small central Indiana town that had three stoplights and zero fast food restaurants. It was not a hot bed for entertainment, especially for kids. There was no youth center, Boys and Girls Club, or structured after school programs. It lacked a place where kids could gather and be kids. Unfortunately, this void created the need for children to find things to do. Unfortunately for some, these “things” led to mischief and trouble. I was constantly surrounded by a loving family, great friends, and a love for basketball that became the cornerstone of my life. I stayed out of trouble, made good grades in school, and accomplished many of my life’s goals. Others from my hometown were not so fortunate. Sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out if we had that place in town that was meant for us. A place where youth, especially teens, could hang out. A place that might have kept some of my classmates and friends from hanging out on a street corner while finding alcohol and drugs. What impact could a place like that have?
Twenty years later I have found the answer. We had the opportunity to volunteer with the Cornerstone Youth Center in Monroeville, Indiana (population approximately 1300 people). Cornerstone provides youth in grades 7-12 with an environment where relationships are formed and character is built. It offers educational assistance, recreational activities, and spiritual lessons. It is a youth center located in small town that is positively impacting the lives of children. It is a place that teens go to because they want to, not because they have to. After spending some time in the center, I can understand why.
Our experience started with a quick tour of the facility. The center has a computer lab and classrooms, a rec room, a coffee shop, and a gymnasium. Serious games of dodgeball were happening in the gym as we watched. The Cornerstone staff and I jumped into the game. It did not take me long to realize that I am old, out of shape, and too slow to dodge the balls that were hurled my way. I did, however, win the first game for our team with an amazing one-handed catch. Unfortunately, that catch made me a target in the second game and I was pegged earlier and often. It was great to interact with those playing. They were laughing and having a great time. Again, they has chosen to be there. That makes it even more meaningful and impactful. After dodgeball the girls and I learned how to be baristas in the coffee shop. Cornerstone’s program director showed us how to make espressos and lattes. We helped make and serve these drinks to the families who attended the evening BRASS session. BRASS is a program that is for families in the community. Sessions are held in the coffee shop that offer families a chance to connect, have fun together, and learn. Communication and handling conflict within the family was the content on this evening. We participated in the session after finishing up behind the counter. At the end of the session I was asked to share our story. I was honored to have the opportunity to talk about volunteerism and what it meant to our family. The families that participate in the BRASS program perform service projects together so it was the perfect audience. A great way to end a great volunteer experience.
The Cornerstone Youth Center truly is a cornerstone of the community. The programs offered to the youth of Monroeville are fantastic. Teens are also blessed to have the chance to build relationships with great people like Kent (Executive Director) and Kory (Program Director). These two gentleman were a pleasure to spend the evening with. They welcomed us into their center and valued us as volunteers. They are passionate about the organization, the mission, and the children. That is what it is all about. As a volunteer, I always notice that first. I look for the level of engagement and passion the staff of an organization has towards the mission. This is important to a volunteer. The employees can make or break a volunteer’s overall experience. There was no doubt that they made our experience very positive. I want to thank them for making us feel welcomed and appreciated.
Get involved with a youth center near you. It is a place where kids learn lessons that will change their lives forever. Investing time in teenagers is extremely important in today’s world. They need it. We, as a community, need it. It is youth centers like Cornerstone that keep kids on the right path. Imagine the world we would live in if all teens were on the wrong path. Step up! get involved, and make a difference in the life of a child.