By Nathan Van Schaik (USAG Schweinfurt)April 29, 2010
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- When Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management Command, unveiled his new roadmap last month in an effort to do a better job at taking care of Army families, this may have been exactly what he had in mind.
Entering Schweinfurt's new youth center is like walking into some parallel universe entirely run by middle and high school kids. Kids compete in video games, some show off their musical talent on a high-end Yamaha keyboard, while others surf the Internet in a state of the art technology lab-all pleasantly distanced from the stress of life in the Army. Even the homework room is in full use. Outside, a basketball game is in progress next to a skate park where skaters showcase their ollies. Meanwhile, a pack of youth tosses a football in the grassy area to the rear.
The youth center-part of the Child, Youth and School Services-opened April 8 after 13 months of construction and has been in full operation ever since. Everything about it comes off as ideal for an entire subculture within the military community known as the military brat. Even the timing of its opening in April couldn't have been planned more perfectly as the military commemorates the month in honor of the military child.
The new million-dollar facility is an improvement from the smaller, outdated one located on Ledward Barracks.
"It has a lot more," said John Gray, a seventh grader at the Schweinfurt middle school. "It's by the running track and near the school. There're more games and there's a kitchen so that they can make better food for us."
And that's not all.
"We have a very inviting space here," said Chris Withrow, the youth center director who recently moved to Schweinfurt after a three-year stint as the youth center director at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. "We have play space. And that's something we didn't have before. We can have these different programs running so no one is interrupted."
Previously, all activities were situated in one room. Now, those working on arts or crafts have their own dedicated space, he said. The same is true for those engaged in homework, videogames, music, cooking or web browsing.
Additionally, there's almost two-thirds more space, according to Withrow. The old facility fit only 32 people while the new one fits 88, he said. There's a kitchen which provides staff the opportunity to prepare more nutritious meals.
"The biggest improvement is that it's right across the street from the middle school," he said.
The facility boasts other features, though less recognized by youth center members, but improvements nonetheless. It's technologically and ecologically more advanced featuring energy efficient bathrooms, lighting, heating and cooling units.
In fact, the only disadvantage is that youth members had gotten used to the old location near the shoppette and PX's food court on Ledward. This, however, may give health-conscientious parents the upper hand in their children's eating habits since the new youth center, which comes equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen-something entirely lacking in the old facility-provides staff the opportunity to prepare more nutritious meals.
One other possible disadvantage to the new location is that it falls off the regular shuttle bus schedule. But even that is being remedied, according to Withrow.
"That's something we're working on," Withrow said. "That can easily change. We're hoping by next year we have our own shuttle just for CYS services, at least between here and Askren." Withrow also expressed hopes to affect the bus contract so that students from Bamberg high school could be dropped off at the youth center.
For Schweinfurt's youth, the new center is a vast upgrade. But for parents, the improvements may even leave a footprint on the household. Mr. Withrow-who has two children of his own and was a foster parent for several years-brings to the stage a robust plan to incorporate education into the center.
The relationship between the schools and the youth center, for example, goes hand in hand. Both schools provide all the textbooks to the youth center. Withrow also gears members towards using the center's homework programs.
"I'd rather do my homework here than at home," said eight grader, Samantha Gray. "If you ever have a question, people can help and there're computers to do research."
There's even a proposal for a before-school program geared toward middle school students. The program, still on the drawing-board, would open at 5:45 a.m. and would provide breakfast, activities and homework support. The purpose of that program would be to ease the daily grind of Army life for families.
The new youth center may be a virtual paradise for Schweinfurt's youth, but its benefits are felt by all.
"That's the goal of Child, Youth and School Services: to reduce some of that stress on the parent so that they can go out and complete their mission and still have a family," Withrow said.