For 20 years, The Warehouse Youth Center in Washington C.H. has served many functions for the youth of this community: a source of entertaining activities, a venue to socialize with friends and a place where teenagers can expend some energy.
For many though, it has also served as something much more important than just a place to hang out. It has been a port in the storm for a multitude of kids, offering a safe haven from the many trials and tribulations that can inundate their lives.
No one recognizes this more than Molly Gruber, who’s been director of The Warehouse for almost four years. For Gruber, taking on the task hasn’t always been easy, but it has become a true passion and a labor of love.
“We try to walk a fine line between the fun and activities, but also it’s a place where kids can go if they need things or if they just need someone to talk to,” said Gruber. “Honestly, there is a lot of poverty in our community and a lot of kids that come to The Warehouse are at or below the poverty level. And when I became director, my eyes were immediately opened to that fact. There are kids who are really struggling and they’re not getting what they need at home. We have kids who come whose parents are on drugs. We have kids who come who are homeless and they’re just going from couch to couch to couch. So I really wanted this to be a place where kids can come if they are in need of something and then we can provide resources.”
Make no mistake, The Warehouse is a fun place to visit. It’s free of charge and offers everything from video games to ping pong to pool. It also offers free WiFi and a full indoor skate park. Concerts are held several times a year, as well as parties and feasts on holidays.
As much as Gruber loves to entertain and put smiles on the faces of those who attend, it’s the larger mission of the center and the resources it offers that is her true dedication.
The Warehouse offers a program in coordination with United Way that provides clothing and shoes for kids who are going back to school.
“Every year, we choose about 10 to 15 kids and they get to go to the (Tanger) outlet mall to get a full new wardrobe and shoes, and everything they need to start the new school year,” said Gruber. “So we raise money all year in order to be able to do that along with the help from United Way.”
Every Friday, Gruber goes to the local food pantry to load up her vehicle with food. The teens are able to come in on those Fridays and pack up a grocery sack full of food for the weekend. This is especially significant during the summer months because many kids rely on school lunches as their main source of food.
The Warehouse also provides a hygiene pantry, which essentially includes three or four large lockers filled with shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and feminine hygiene products. Many of these products can be quite expensive in stores and are not covered by food stamps or other assistance. The Warehouse provides them free of charge for those who are in need.
“It is my belief and it’s been proven to me time and time again that teenagers are a very forgotten group in society,” Gruber said. “There are a lot of programs out there for little kids and for adults and senior citizens. But teenagers are kind of right in the middle and get lost in the shuffle. They’re almost old enough to take care of themselves, but really they’re not. So they do struggle with having a lot of resources, shoes for school, clothes for school, food and all these things. And they’re the group that is the most susceptible to bullying. So we have to be able to provide these resources. And now it’s to the point where the kids aren’t ashamed anymore to come in and fill up on food for the weekend. Now it’s just like second nature, which is what I always wanted – for them to feel comfortable doing it.”
To recognize and celebrate the significance of The Warehouse to the youth and to the Fayette County community at large, a 20-year anniversary party and open house will be held Wednesday, June 21 from 5-8 p.m. at the youth center, 313 S. Elm St. in Washington C.H.
The celebration will be held in conjunction with the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Business After Hours event. Those in attendance will be able to come inside the building, look around, meet the board of directors, meet some of the kids who attend, and enjoy some light refreshments.
The Warehouse is open Friday and Saturday nights from 6-10 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. On Fridays and Saturdays, Gruber said an average of 50 to 75 teens are in attendance.
Currently, the center has started a “100 Yards Dash” campaign in order to raise $10,000 to redo the parking lot and add a basketball court.
“We have a grassy area off of our parking lot and that is where the basketball court will be,” Gruber said. “Our parking lot is an absolute mess, totally crumbled with weeds coming through it. When it rains, it floods. So our goal is to redo the entire area and add that court. All the money we’re raising will just be for the concrete. We already have the labor donated. So we need 100 yards of concrete and we’re basically asking 100 people to donate 100 dollars to reach our goal.”
Since Gruber posted the details of the campaign on her Facebook page, the response has been tremendous.
“It never ceases to amaze me just how wonderful this community is,” she said. “I’m very humbled how they have not only responded to the campaign, but just of their amazing support of The Warehouse in general. We have always wanted this to be a safe place for the kids and we want them to feel like they are part of a family. A lot of our kids don’t have stable families so we want to be able to provide that for them if we can.”
Gruber said The Warehouse is always in great need of volunteers.
“Anyone who is interested, please come to The Warehouse, get ahold of me and we have paperwork for a background check,” she said. “I’m always in need of people. I have four or five people who help me out that are with me every single weekend, but I just exhaust them with all they have to do. I realize doing this job is not for everyone. But I also know there are people out there who would be perfect to volunteer. It takes a special person.”
As The Warehouse approaches its 20-year anniversary, Gruber expressed her appreciation of how far it has come and exuded excitement for the possibilities of the future.
“I tell people that this isn’t just my job, it’s such a huge part of my life,” Gruber said. “This place is a part of me now. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but really I’m just humbled by the community support. We have a lot of things to be excited about coming up. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.”
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica