Once a notion, center for youths now reality; Residents' hard work,cooperation pay off


The word on the street was clear when candidates hit the pavement to campaign in Taneytown last year: Give the city's youth a safe place to gather.

One year -- to the day -- after the election, The Gathering Place will open at 5 p.m. May 4, at a building the city owns at Roberts Mill Park, formerly known as Taneytown Rod and Gun Club.

The new community center will be for all ages, however, not just youth, say organizers.

"Everybody lives in the community," said Sue Reifsnider, a businesswoman on the organizing committee. "For it to be The Gathering Place, it can't be segregated."

With no budget to hire a staff, the center will depend on volunteers who will cover the hours it is open: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays.

"The community asked for it, they're getting it but they'll have to help keep it rolling," said Councilman Darryl Hale, who with fellow Councilman Brian E. Long chairs the committee that has organized the center. Hale, Long, Reifsnider and resident Vicki Wisner have been meeting since summer.

"What we need now are volunteers and input -- what do people want?" said Hale, the newest elected member of the council. He and Long, who was elected to a second term, had made a community center a focus of their campaigns, as did new Mayor Henry Heine.

Reifsnider, 33, had been a youth minister while growing up outside Taneytown. Several years ago, she said, she and a paster from another church, Art Mentzer of Trinity Lutheran Church, had tried to start a youth center in the city, but the time wasn't right, she said.

Since then, she grew up, went to college, got married, moved to Frederick County, then moved back to Taneytown a few years ago.

Last year, when she ran into a campaigning Heine, she said, she told him she saw a need for such a center.

"After he got elected, he called me and said, 'Get to work on it,' " she said.

The Gathering Place, she said, was the name she and Mentzer had always wanted to call it.

To get the center running as quickly as possible, the committee looked to the Roberts Mill Park building because of its availability and central location on Roberts Mill Road. Most of the city's 5,000 residents could walk to it, Hale said, which was important to him.

"Kids can't drive," he said. When he was campaigning, he said, "A lot of the young kids would say, 'We don't have a place to go that doesn't cost money.' "

His ideas include making the space available for neighborhood groups to meet to form crime watches or child-safety programs.

To start, activities will include:

A pre-opening promotional "Spring Fling" will be held at 11: 30 a.m. April 22. The family event will offer an Easter egg hunt, face painting and balloon sculptures.

A community garden in which children and teens will be teamed with an adult to be "garden buddies," and the resulting vegetable harvest will be donated to needy families in the area.

A chess club.

Classes in arts and crafts, taught by volunteers, for all ages.

The building is small, Hale said -- the maximum occupancy is 60 people.

"If one out of 200 residents shows up, it'll be full," he said.

The committee has found a way to maximize space while the city looks for grants that might pay for an expansion.

Although The Gathering Place will be a central meeting spot, it won't be the only one, Hale said. Before the committee settled on the Roberts Mill Park building, several churches had offered their facilities for a community center, he said.

The committee has decided to use those offers in a way that would make them satellites of The Gathering Place, he said. If the chess club gets off to a good start and wants to have its regular matches elsewhere, such as at one of the churches, that could free space at the Roberts Mill Park Building for another activity.

"That will allow us to maximize our space," he said. "I hope that once we open this up, there will be meetings there every day of the week. But we have to start out small."

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