Every week, as many as 40 youngsters on the Key Peninsula go to the Red Barn Youth Center after school.
According to Jeremy Schintz, Red Barn director of operations, that’s more than double the number that the center started with when they opened last August.
“We’re really growing,” Schintz said. “And we’re growing kind of organically. We get a few more kids every week.
“And we’ve rented out space to a church that comes here on Sunday and a youth group that comes on Friday nights,” he added.
Tacoma Community College uses the facilities four days a week, as well, doing GED and adult education classes.
Use of the building has increased to the point that Schintz and co-director Laura Condon are applying for permits to expand into a big room in the back of the building. “That will increase our capacity considerably and it will give us some additional program opportunities that we don’t have right now,” Schintz said.
That might include things like theater productions, dances and music, indoor basketball and even movies.
Right now, he said, the Red Barn is open weekdays from 2:30-6:30 p.m. “We follow the school district’s schedule.”
Most of the kids who come after school are middle-schoolers by about a four-to-one ratio, he said.
“A lot of the high school kids who are regulars with us are working on their volunteer projects. We have three high school kids who are really consistent volunteers. They help with homework and with snack preparations and they’re becoming role models and mentors for the younger kids,” Schintz said.
There are also several TCC students who act as mentors. “We have a guy who helps the kids with math and a guy who goes out and plays baseball and just runs around with the kids,” Schintz said.
Currently Schintz and Condon are planning the Red Barn’s summer schedule by taking a survey to learn what the community wants during the months when schools aren’t in session.
“We can’t run 8-to-5 Monday thru Friday because then it becomes a day care center,” he said. “And behavior things with middle school kids can be really challenging after about four hours. So we’re looking for the best window to best meet the needs of the community and have something for the kids to do. The kids love coming here and they have a lot of fun,” he said.
As always, the Red Barn staff is in need of more volunteers and donations of money and food.
The community has been especially helpful in bringing food donations so the kids can have healthy after-school snacks when they arrive at the center.
“We can go through a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables in a very short time,” Schintz said. “The food bank gives us excess stuff but these kids can eat a lot.”
Several parents have started volunteering at the center. “It’s a lot of fun to watch when parents come in and hangout with their kids,” he said. “We have some dads who come in and play pool with their kids. Watching parents teaching the kids and spending time with them is a cool thing.
“I’d love it if more people would come down and see us and volunteer. We can have them up and running almost immediately,” Schintz said.
For information or to make donations visit redbarnkp.org or call (253) 885-1594.