Since then, the center has been a fixture in the community, providing myriad programs for children and teens, including a comprehensive after-school program, summer camps, special programs for teenagers and the UCAN Mentoring Program, which matches youth with volunteer mentors.
“We’ve made it work for 25 years,” said Scott Dunwoody, vice president of business development for Bethesda. “We’ve simply outgrown it. It was built in 1908, and it’s structurally sound, but is in need of major repairs and upgrades.”
Additionally, the current youth center has no outdoor area where kids can play.
“Anytime that we want to take the kids anywhere outside, we have to put them in vans and drive them,” Dunwoody explained.
Bethesda’s plan is to renovate the existing youth center, create an outdoor play area and parking, construct an improved entryway off Herr Street, and renovate the recently acquired adjacent building into a gymnasium and program facility.
The adjacent property, which includes half-an-acre of land and a 10,000-square-foot building, is the former Kurzenknabe Printing Co. It was not initially part of Bethesda’s renovation plan, but, when officials approached the building’s owner about expanding eight feet in his direction, he told them that he was looking to sell the property.
“It was truly an answered prayer,” Dunwoody said. “We had always talked about how great it would be if that building ever became available, and here it was.”
Through the support of five foundations, seven churches, six businesses and 91 individuals, Bethesda raised the necessary funds to purchase the building in July 2015, completing the first phase of the expansion project. They’re still raising funds for the renovations phase.
Bethesda believes that the expansion of the youth center will lead to a doubling or even tripling of the number of families reached through their programs.
“We envision not just a youth center, but a community center,” Dunwoody said.
Bethesda’s youth programs are aimed at giving young people a solid foundation upon which to build their futures.
“Our programs seek to ‘fireproof’ young people from all of the things that they may struggle with in life,” Dunwoody explained. “We often see adults who have destroyed their lives through drug and alcohol abuse and other destructive decisions. These programs intercede before things get to that point.”
Dunwoody said that parents in the community often express their appreciation to Bethesda for being a safe place for their children to spend time.
“Many parents need this,” said Dunwoody. “They need a place where their kids can be safe while they work to support them. The youth center provides that, and, with this expansion, we’ll be able to take that support even farther.”
In addition to youth programming, Bethesda envisions expanding the center’s outreach to seniors, as well.
“We see this as a ‘legacy project,’” Dunwoody said. “This will have a positive impact on the community for years to come.”
Bethesda Mission Youth Center is located at 1428 Herr St., Harrisburg. The organization continues to raise funds for Phase 2 of the renovation project. To learn more about their programming or to make a gift, visit www.bethesdamission.org.