New Wine Fellowship turns old Kmart into youth facility

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 17, 2009


LAPLACE – A generous contingent of St. John youths have been spending their summer vacation shooting pool, serving up volleyballs and competing in basketball games in a location previously reserved for shopping carts and discount merchandise.

With the help of donations from New Wine Christian Fellowship of LaPlace, the building that was formerly home to a K-Mart store has been transformed into a youth recreational facility. The changes are the first phase of an 2008 agreement to bring the YMCA back to St. John Parish.

New Wine Pastor Neil Bernard, with the help of trustees from the St. John Sheriff’s Office inmate work crew, has spent the past few months making about $75,000 worth of renovations inside the former retail facility to make it ready for recreational use.

“We removed the suspended ceiling inside the building to bring it above 20 feet and also added gym lighting,” Bernard said. “We installed flooring for two basketball courts and brought in pool tables, a volleyball net and other game tables. We also added a concession stand. We finished what we needed for the summer months.”

The recent improvements, which Bernard said were funded through donations from the New Wine congregation and local businesses, are just the early stages of what the pastor wants to see out of the facility. Bernard said the church and the YMCA are looking to raise another $5 million to make the building a true recreational facility for the St. John youth.

“We want to eventually add workout equipment and a swimming pool to the building,” Bernard said. “Our goal is to have a full service YMCA in St. John.”

New Wine Fellowship purchased the 64,000-square-foot building in December of 2007 after the Salvation Army completed a two-year lease following Hurricane Katrina. The building remained vacant until July of last year when the YMCA approached the church to inquire about renting the building. Bernard said the church agreed to lease the building to the YMCA for $1 a year. The two sides signed a 25-year agreement.

“This is one of the few outlets for kids in the parish to do anything indoors,” said Bernard. “We have children coming from Edgard and as far away as Kenner to take part in activities here. The turnout has been fantastic.”

The facility has been home to two church-sponsored summer camps during the day, as well as “midnight basketball” events on Thursday and Saturday evenings that have attracted as many as 100 area kids. Now that summer is coming to an end and school is returning to session, Bernard has new plans for the center.

“We are getting volunteers ready for the school year so that kids can have a place to come to after classes are over,” Bernard said. “We plan to offer tutoring and other recreational activities to keep them occupied after school. We are collaborating with the school system and the library system to make that happen.”