Almost like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Escalon Youth Center grew out of the ruins of the former Escalon Motel; that building demolished and cleared away, making room for a safe haven for local youths.
The grand opening ceremony for the new center on Saturday, Aug. 13 drew a large crowd, including several representatives from Escalon’s Trinity Church, Assembly of God, the driving force behind the center, and many agencies in town that helped with the project. Youth Center manager Todd ‘T.J.’ O’Neill welcomed those in attendance and briefly outlined the process that Trinity went through to bring the center to fruition. He noted that what began as the dream of Pastor Jim Davis is now something that the entire community can enjoy.
“We poured all of our sweat, blood and tears into it,” O’Neill said of the project. “The goal was to make Escalon a better place ... and we ask that you would partner with us on this journey.”
O’Neill said residents can help by donating to keep the center going, whether they want to make a one-time donation or monthly gifts.
“We know that everyone here wants Escalon to be a better place,” O’Neill added. “This is not a testament to our church and what we can do; it’s a testament to God and what He can do.”
Pastor Davis, who is battling brain cancer, was unable to assist much with the project due to his health issues. He was, however, in attendance on Saturday and took the microphone, thanking those that saw the project through. He and his wife Brenda pointed especially to the efforts of associate pastor Arney Corbin and his wife Dana, along with Dana’s parents, George and June Jenkins. Brenda also thanked property owner Sammy Cox, who rejected one offer he received on the motel property in order to sell it to the church, believing in the Youth Center idea as well.
The Escalon Youth Center is designed as a place for young adults, ages 12 to 17 (or in their last year of high school) to hang out and “enjoy a positive atmosphere,” said O’Neill. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it is open at lunchtime so students from the high school can also utilize it then.
Along with a pool table, foosball, video games, movies, books, and a kitchen area, there will be places for students to study, a chance for them to talk with adults on issues of concern, and more.
“We want to point them in the right direction,” O’Neill said of being there to offer support to students.
The dream, he added, started in September 2013 at a pastoral conference, and the church congregation approved the project unanimously at its March 2014 annual church meeting. From there, they were able to obtain the property and closed escrow at the end of 2014. Demolition of the old Escalon Motel started in July 2015 and, just over a year from that time, the new center was dedicated and officially opened.
Much of the work was done through volunteers, particularly those with the RV Maps program, an Assembly of God organization of volunteers with specific skill sets from plumbing to electrical to carpentry that travel to assist with community projects. George Jenkins serves as coordinator for the RV Maps in this area, and was instrumental in lining up volunteers for the project.
“This journey has been an absolutely amazing journey so far,” O’Neill said.
Dana Corbin took the microphone and thanked all those agencies, including local fire and police, that helped clean out the motel rooms and get the site ready for demolition. She also thanked the Escalon City Council and city staff for assisting with the permitting process and guiding them along the way.
Brenda Davis echoed those thoughts and also praised Pastor Arney and Dana.
“They have taken on a responsibility that was not theirs to bear and have done it with grace,” she said of the couple seeing the project through.
Offering a prayer for the building prior to the ribbon cutting, Pastor Arney noted: “It’s pretty amazing what God can do in a community.”
Once the ribbon was cut, residents packed the center to see all it has to offer, many settling in to play video games, others enjoying the refreshments and others just marveling at the transformation to a brand new facility.
Escalon High student Daisy Pantoja said she and her friends will definitely be using the center.
“We’re so glad they did this, we have somewhere to go,” she said.
It was an air of celebration all around, with the new youth center now officially open for business.
“It’s a great thing,” said Escalon Mayor Gary Haskin. “It (motel) was an eyesore … now we have something for the school, the city, especially for the youth. This is way beyond what we had hoped for and it was a great community effort.”