PAW PAW - “We want this to be a long-term project,” said Pastor Ben Bowater of RedArrow Ministries as he helps prepare for next month’s opening of the new Paw Paw Youth Center.
The new youth center, which officially opens Oct. 1, is located at 37051 West Red Arrow Highway, just a half- mile from the Paw Paw Middle School. It will be open Monday through Thursday and Fridays of home football games, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
(An official ribbon cutting and open house of the facility will be held Friday, Sept. 28, at 4 p.m. The public is invited.)
Local business owner Harold Schuitmaker has leased the building for the use, and has also agreed to sponsor the youth center’s first month of operation.
According to Bowater, when RedArrow Ministries started its ministry four years ago in Paw Paw, many community leaders voiced a great need to create a safe place for middle and high school students who were unsupervised during the time immediately following school and prior to caregivers returning home from work.
“Being a public school teacher in the Chicago-area prior to the pastorate, I could personally attest to this great need for our youth,” said Bowater.
Last spring, Paw Paw Middle School Assistant Principal Jim Deters asked Bowater and his ministry to work toward developing a safe place for kids after school, a site near the middle school.
“I believe a drop-in center for teens in proximity to Paw Paw Middle School would be a step forward in our community to lessen the impact of teen drugs, vandalism, smoking, disruption of businesses, and other negative behaviors,” said Deters. “It would provide stable adult mentorship and connection many teens don’t have today.”
Paw Paw High School Principal Mike Dahlinger added, “While we, as a school district offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities, there are students for who athletics and school clubs hold little appeal. For these kids, a program run by RedArrow Ministries could be just the opportunity for afternoon supervision and appropriate activity.”
The First Presbyterian Church of Paw Paw has also come on board in support of the venture.
Bowater said that he has also received support from Paw Paw Chief of Police Eric Marshall.
“The center will be free of charge for any Paw Paw middle or high school student with identification. The 5,000- square-foot building has a place for students to do homework, as well as a larger space for recreational games such as ping-pong, foosball, and pool,” said Bowater.
Bowater said the youth center has received several grants to help defer start-up costs.
RedArrow Ministries re-cently hired two parttime staff people who will be in charge of finding, background checking, and training a large pool of volunteers, as well as overseeing the day-to-day operations of the youth center.
The Rev. Kevin Herres will serve as the Youth Center’s director, and Adam Brown will be its assistant director.
Herres served as the senior pastor at Parchment Christian Reformed Church. When it recently completed its ministry, many of the items from that church were donated to the Paw Paw Youth Center.
“We needed some people with a high quality of work experience,” Bowater said of the new staff.
Brown will also serve as the local Young Life leader, a national youth organization that recently started in Paw Paw through partnerships developed by RedArrow Ministries with other area churches.
“(We want it to be) a safe, secure place for kids to be themselves,” said Bowater.
“If the adults of this community could help encourage our young people to see that each and every one of them have tremendous value, then many of the issues we see in our society could be diminished .
“We do hope the community embraces it.”