New things are happening at 49 Seaboard Ave., in Lake Wales, right next to the Bible Church of God. An 85-by-100 square foot building — with a full-size basketball court, restrooms, concession stand and offices — is being built; the steel beams are already in place.
Pastor Bobby Banks of the church and Calvin Marion, of CLM Learning Solutions in Lake Wales, are excited about the new Youth Center being built.
Banks said he had carried the idea for such a place for awhile. He expressed the belief it was inspired by God. Marion spoke of the genesis Banks had to get the idea for the Youth Center.
“I think what spurred it is the shootings,” said Marion. “You start getting kids shot every week, you know, it’s like, ‘Look man we’ve got to get this building up so these kids won’t, for lack of a better term, be disengaged.’”
Banks noted that the church stepped in after the shootings to help people in ministry and in prayer to cope with what had happened when a 6-year-old boy was shot through the window of his family’s home.
“What it did was just to encourage us even more to continue to do what the Lord had commissioned us to do. It just encouraged us,” he said. “To see hateful things like that happen, especially when you’ve got a kid involved, about 6 or 7 years old, that was crazy.”
On a personal note, Marion said he remembered how, when he was a kid, the community center was open. Marion said kids could play pingpong, football and basketball. However, it wasn’t like that at all when Banks, whose family moved to Lake Wales when he was almost 6 years old, was growing up.
“We had a few places we gathered as young people, such as Roosevelt Gym, over the summer,” said Banks. “It kept us out of trouble.”
Both believe that eventually the center will contribute toward changing things for the better.
“What happens is when you engage kids, you give them opportunity to do something positive, they really don’t have time to do anything negative,” Marion said. “So that’s where this came as a result of — just the vision of Bishop Banks — and remembering how, as a kid, what kept him off the streets.”
Banks said he hopes the center will help young people structure their lives.
“I think this is a major problem here in the city, with being that young people don’t have any place to go that is positive, a positive perspective where they can come and find help,” he said.
The pastor said he wants it to be more than a place to do sports, but also to be a forum where youth can find mentors, and be taught.
However, progress is slow going currently.
“At this point, there’s not enough activities for the kids, and the kids aren’t being engaged,” Marion said, who added he had high hopes. “We’ll see if we can get the attention of our young people.”
The project has moved forward on private donations and community support, Marion said. The property sits on about an acre of land. Once completed, estimated to take approximately a year, depending on donations, hours of operation will be considered.
They would like for it to be open during the summers, and how successful it is will depend on the community, he notes.
“For the next generation coming up, if they are mentored right, if they are taught the right thing, if they stay on the right track, they are going to better the community. They are going to go to school, they are going to stay out of trouble, and they are the ones who are going to take the baton into the next generation. And I think if they are not structured properly, if they don’t have the proper environment to deal with, they are going to be like creatures of habit, they are going to fall into the same,” the pastor said.
“This was the Lord’s doing,” he said.
Mayor Gene Fultz of the city wrote a letter in support of the project, he says.
“We are kind of open for donations,” Banks said, noting that “this is a community project, it’s not just a church project and we are trying to develop that.”