Youth Center offers youngster fun, games, safety

June 20, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

HANCOCK - Stacey Pittman spent a recent Thursday evening playing basketball and shooting pool at the Hancock Youth Center.

"It gives me something to do at night and keeps me away from trouble," said Stacey, 12.

She is one of more than 100 local kids who have enjoyed the new facility at 56 W. Main St. since it opened in March, Town Manager Louis O. Close said.

"We had 52 kids in here one night," Close said. "It's primarily a safe haven from tobacco and alcohol and harassment."

It gets a bit noisy when dozens of youngsters get together under one roof, but center members have always behaved well toward each other and the adult chaperones, Herb Golden said recently. Golden was Youth Center board chairman until he resigned Wednesday night.


Employee Betty McNabb and at least one adult volunteer provide supervision at the center, which is open to kids ages 6 and up, Golden said.

Housed in the spacious former H&P clothing store, the center features a new billiards table, bumper pool, Ping-Pong and air hockey tables, basketball game, computers, video games, a TV lounge area, vending machines and such board games as Monopoly, Battleship and Scrabble.

The pool table ranks highest with most center members, McNabb said.

Josh Reed, 11, and David Weller, 10, said they try to arrive early to get first dibs on the pool table. Armed with their own pool sticks, the boys penned their names at the top of the table's sign-up sheet and racked the balls for their first game of the night.

Brittany Ratcliff, 12, played bumper pool. Matt McCoy and Kenneth Hardman, both 12, claimed a pair of easy chairs to wait for their turn at the billiards table.

"This gives us a place to hang out," Kenneth said.

Town residents for years have requested a youth center but lack of money and available space stalled the project, Close said.

"When I was 11 years old, we were always hunting for something to do in Hancock," Golden said. "It's always been a sore spot."

Hancock Police Chief Donald Gossage made the community's kids one of his top priorities when he took his post six years ago.

Gossage launched an Explorer's Post, forged a partnership with the county Board of Education to host youth activities in Hancock Middle-Senior High School's gym up to four nights a week, and started a popular basketball program at the gym on Saturday nights, he said.

The center is an expansion of the town's commitment to its youth, Gossage said.

"We're trying to provide an alternative for the youth," he said. "They can come here instead of getting involved with vandalism and other destructive behavior."

The center was funded primarily by grants from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention awarded to the Hancock Police Department.

Two grants totaling more than $21,000 covered the cost of one employee and most of the center's activities. An additional $3,300 grant was recently used to purchase more gaming equipment, Close said.

Residents and civic groups have also donated their time and money, he said.

Hancock resident Richard Murray, who won about $8 million in the state lottery a decade ago, has generously agreed to pay $400 a month toward the rental cost of the building, Close said.

Other donations include $250 from the Hancock Lions Club, $200 from the Hancock American Legion and $1,000 from the Berkeley Springs, W.Va., Moose Lodge, he said.

More than 30 adults have volunteered their time at the center. Debbie Reed said she enjoys spending time with her son and other youngsters at the youth center, and plans to start doing crafts with them there at least once a month.

"I like the atmosphere here. You don't have to worry about cussing or the kids hanging out of the street," Reed said. "You learn a lot being around kids. You show them respect and they will respect you in return."

The center is open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the center can call the town office at 301-678-5622.

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