YMCA returns to St. John with a little help from friends

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Step two in the march toward achieving a huge dream for St. John Parish youngsters has now been accomplished with the confirmation that the YMCA will soon begin heading up a youth recreation center in LaPlace at the New Wine Fellowship Church building.

New Wine Pastor Neil Bernard has said for years that one of his big goals has been to help provide a place for St. John Parish youth to go at any hours of the day, so they could have good, clean recreation as opposed to getting caught up in some of the activities these days that leads to trouble.

The church made the first step towards achieving that goal in the past year when they were able to purchase the entire shopping center on Airline Highway, where they previously conducted church services in just a portion of the building. A large portion of the building used to be K-Mart, and was now vacant.

This week, Bernard and YMCA Senior Program Director Lou Johnson confirmed to L’Observateur that they have come to an agreement for the church to lease the 64,000 square foot facility for $1 a year. The two groups have signed a 25-year agreement.

Bernard said it was the perfect match to speed up the process of offering St. John Parish youth a great recreational facility that should only get bigger with time.

“It’s a win-win situation, that’s for sure,” Bernard said. “They have the expertise to run a program for young people, and we have the building for them to do it in, as well as having volunteers to help conduct the programs.”

New Wine is presently opening the building for young people to use on Friday and Saturday nights. It is open for free recreation on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., then a more structured youth night is held every Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m.

Johnson said that the YMCA should be ready to open for weekday hours “within a couple of weeks” and will then be open from after school to 7:30 p.m.

The start up money for the program has come from the United Way of St. John, and will enable the center to offer basketball, pool, ping-pong, foosball and other activities. However with the YMCA taking charge during the week, they will bring some of their proven success programs for young people that will help address obesity, leadership and government.

One of the top programs the YMCA is going to offer is called “Trim Kids,” which addresses juvenile obesity and is directed by the LSU Public Health Department.

“We’ve got such a serious problem with juvenile obesity,” Johnson noted. “But this ‘Trim Kids’ program is really great.”

Johnson pointed out that today’s generation of young people is the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents, due to the increasing problems from obesity.

The opening schedule for the ‘Y’ is what Johnson and Bernard both hope is just the beginning to eventually have the center available during waking hours, seven days a week.

“We are trying to establish a presence there with this opening,” Johnson said. “We need volunteers to begin helping, and we need donations of money, or in-kind donations to help outfit the place.”

Bernard said that the initial projections to furnish the center with everything needed for a great recreation center, indicated as much as $6 million could be needed. Johnson said that one of his jobs is to begin the always tough task of fund raising.

“We have nothing there right now, other than the check from the United Way for us to buy our initial items so we could open,” Johnson said. “From here, we hope the community will step up and help us grow.”

Bernard said that the interest his church has seen in basketball, just from their weekend evenings, has led to the plans for a fall league for kids age six and up.

“This needs to be a community venture, with everyone pulling together to help all the kids,” Bernard said. “We really want all the churches to help with this, especially with more volunteers so we can begin to expand the hours that we are open. Hopefully we’ll hear from a lot of churches who will join with us in doing this.”

Anyone who wants to help, or needs more information can contact Bernard at 653-0008, or Johnson at 504-722-7207.