Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001


Making a change for the better

If you are circling toward one direction and you make a 180 degree turn to go the other way, it might be the best thing that could happen to you; that is, if at first you were going in the wrong direction. Thus is the general concept of the Oneighty Center, a great hangout with a purpose for kids located on the new U.S. Highway 51 in LaPlace. It is supported and under the management of the Reserve Christian Church. My friend, Steve McKinnon, wanted me to see what was going on first-hand at the center, and it was a very informative and enjoyable experience. My pal, Dr. Dana, went with us. The building itself is attractive and well thought out. There is paved parking, and once that fills up the grounds on the side are also available. Young people were all over the place, which was abuzz with activity n healthy activity. Inside, a large auditorium on one side of the building was lined with rows and rows of bright red chairs. There were several stages used for playing the fine musical instruments on display and for performances by the teens. Associate Pastor and Youth Minister Stephen Aguillard, son of Reserve Christian Pastor Rod Aguillard, was there working with the youngsters before the night’s service. This was “senior night,” and it was seniors only who directed and participated the stage events. That night they included Bridget Giroir, Kristen Allen, Angie Tucker, Nick Cruz, Monique Michel and a charming, enthusiastic Ashley Gross, who was kind enough to take time with me. I also got the names of Danielle Falcon, Summer Vicknair, Matt McGee, Devin Harry, Jason Mercer, Natalie Simon, Eric McClain, Jessica LeBlanc and Kevin Phipps. This project was a vision and a dream of the Aguillards in an effort to steer today’s young in the right direction to have a better life, and now it is a successful reality. Approximately 350 teen-agers utilize the facility each week, and anyone from 12 to 18, regardless of religion or race, is invited to use it. It is open on Wednesdays from 6:30 until 10 p.m. and from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Chaperons have background screening, and an adequate number of volunteers are always there; so is security. Wednesday is “training night” with emphasis on developing leaders, and Saturday’s activity includes general music and church service in the auditorium which lasts for an hour only. No one religion is emphasized. Then the teens go back to their activities. The other side of the Oneighty Center houses an entertainment area, well supervised again by adult parents and/or other chaperons. There is a pool table, basketball cage (very popular, I might add, with Karen Ford monitoring it that night), foosball and video games. Paula Allen is staff and organizes and directs most of the activities; she is always on duty. Pam Davis, Penny and Van Bordelon and Lindy Torres were working in that area, and Penny and Lindy agree that they were raised in Reserve Christian Church and now that they are adults with families, they believe in helping. Teens gather at tables for conversation, and simple snacks like nachos, hot dogs, candy and chips are available to buy. Sometimes there is “Big Night,” where, after services, teens show proof of attendance at services and are treated to a free snack, sometimes donated by a local business. The Aguillards “always wanted a hang-out center,” according to Stephen. The reason this works, he says, is “not only do they (the teens) have a place where they can socialize, but they can get their spiritual needs met. We provide a place for them to hang out and give the Holy Spirit a chance to have His way so he can change lives.” I have always known Rod Aguillard to be a man of great faith and was fortunate enough to get to chat briefly with him when he came in Saturday night to walk and talk among those filling the auditorium. He spoke of the apparent success the center is having on the lives of young people and of their desire to build even another center in an area that needs it. Pastor Rod says they are in the process of trying to get grants to further the effort. We agreed that what young people really want is to be around each other. Pastor Rod displays a sense of quiet, sincere determination to provide a positive place for them. Truly, I was impressed by the large number of teen-agers at the Oneighty Center who, on a “big Saturday night,” were having a great time being just wholesome teen-agers. This franchise is the most positive social service for improving a community. Those who serve it are thoroughly unselfish and concerned. Actually, it’s a dream come true. If I had teens, I would take them there.