FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Between the hours when school lets out and parents get off work, the Fort Rucker Youth Center offers a haven for youth to not only fill their time, but cultivate their minds.

The center provides a space where installation youth can come together with others to form bonds, take part in programs and learn life skills, said Sasha LaForge, youth center assistant director, and training and curriculum specialist.

"Our program exists because when we think about our middle school and teenage children, a lot of them have idle time at home between after-school hours and when parents are at work," said LaForge. "We want to have a program where the youth can come and learn life skills, have time to do their homework and interact with other children, as well as get mentored by the staff here."

The facility boasts a gymnasium, complete with a basketball court, health and fitness room, computers and tech labs, games and activities, arts and crafts, a homework center and more, according to LaForge.

"We have computers in each of the rooms and they can access our network throughout the building, they have the exercise room, they can karaoke, they can dance -- whatever activity they want to do we can try to do for them," she said. "Our homework center is where they can come in and do their homework -- we just try to make it feel as comfortable as we can for them."

The center is more than just a place for youth to gather, play and do their homework, though. It's a place where they can learn to become leaders in a safe environment, as well, said the assistant director.

"Our goal is to teach them life skills and to have a lot of hands-on experience in what they do," she said. "They actually run their clubs and all of their activities that they take part in. We have the lesson plans here for them and the children are able to lead these activities, so that develops their leadership skills."

The center partners with local boys and girls clubs, 4-H clubs, hosts leadership forums and even takes part in the installation's Army Family Action Plan, where youth can get involved with the community to talk about issues that they want to see changed -- an opportunity for the youth on the installation to make a difference, said the youth center assistant director.

The youth center also hosts recreational events throughout the year, and one event coming up is the Decades Flashback Lock-in, which will be Dec. 15 from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. During the lock-in, children and teens can dress up in their favorite outfit from any era between the 20s through the 90s, and prizes will be given out for the best costumes in various categories.

The youth will get to take part in different activities through the night, including, laser tag, skating, games and more, and LaForge said it's a great opportunity for children to see what the facility has to offer.

"When we do our lock-ins, we have a lot of children who attend who don't normally attend on a regular basis, and sometimes a lot of these children have so much to do after school," she said. "But with the lock-in, they're able to come together with their friends, hang out and do different activities -- just kind of see what we're all about.

"Through that, we have children who don't realize that we have all of this here and then they want to come after school or come on weekends," she continued. "The lock-in really brings people together, and allows them to meet new people and have fun."

The lock-in is open to ages 11-18 and all children must be registered with child and youth services. Cost for the event is $20.

For more information, call 255-2260.

The center is also offering a teen babysitter's course Dec. 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During the course, teens will cover American Red Cross CPR and first-aid training, home and fire safety training, basic child care and diaper changing, as well as basic child abuse prevention training.

The course is limited to 14 participants and teens must be between the ages of 13-18 with a valid CYS registration.

For more information, call 255-0621.

Providing events like the lock-in and the babysitter's course, as well as programs for mentorship, is just a sampling of how youth center staff members cater to the community on the installation, said LaForge, but taking care of the youth of Fort Rucker is their main purpose.

"We want the parents to feel comfortable and safe knowing their children are here, and to know that they're in good hands interacting with other kids, and not out and about," said the assistant director. "We have an awesome staff here -- they spend time with the children, they interact with them, they take their suggestions. The youth of the center have a real relationship with many of them.

"We're very caring of what the children do, and we want to make sure they're safe and we want to make sure they know that they can come and talk to us -- we want to build that trust," she said. "Whether they're having a good day or bad day, they know they can come and talk to us."

For more information, call 255-2271 or 255-2260.