Belen — For Pastor Chuck Wyeth at the Church of Christ at Belen, serving his community includes helping children with a youth center that recently opened.
Icky’s Youth Center, located at the church, 10 Golf Road, just north of Belen behind the old Donut King, is a free place for children from fifth grade to seniors in high school to go after school and on Saturday.
Wyeth, who moved to Belen with his family nearly a year ago to become pastor at the church, came up with the idea of a youth center in Belen after asking people in the community what was needed.
“They all said a safe place for our kids to go,” Wyeth said. “I came to our spiritual leadership board here, and told them we have a 10,000 square-foot building, a basketball and volleyball court that’s not being used. Why not use them?”
It was then that he brought up the idea of Icky’s Youth Center, a project that was established in Fort Dodge, Iowa, eight years ago by a group of pastors in the community who wanted a safe place for children to go.
“I was a volunteer there for a year and a half and I fell in love with it,” the pastor said. “It was a program that changed lives.”
With a buy-in from the board and the pastor heading up the project, they got down to business and were able to get a 501-c3 (nonprofit) designation on Dec. 25.
“On Christmas Eve, we probably got our best Christmas gift ever,” the pastor said.
It was then that Wyeth was able to start fundraising for the youth center. He’s been out to a lot of different businesses, letting them know what he planned and for whom.
“The church, of course, donated money, Mr. Noblin, with the funeral home donated, and Big Mike’s (Burgers and More) are donating food every Tuesday and Thursday,” he said.
Wyeth said several other businesses have either donated money or supplies for the center as well.
The youth center, Wyeth said, is a place where children can go, feel safe, and find friendships.
“Icky’s is part of the solution — that’s our motto,” he said. “Our mission statement is, ‘We’re changing the world one kid at a time.”
Icky’s Youth Center has a variety of activities, from Foosball carpetball to arcade basketball, video games to bumper pool and arts and crafts to volleyball.
Each child will be provided a snack and a bottle of water, but they can also buy other snacks for a minimal cost, which will go back into the center.
“When they’re done with their open time, whether they’re working on homework or playing a game, we’ll do a short, 15-minute devo (devotional), which will be on something like anti-bullying, positive reinforcement,” he said. “It’ll have some scripture reference to it.”
The children will also be able to participate in what’s called minute-to-win-it games, what Wyeth says when they take some household objects and challenge the participants to be the first to finish a challenge or to see how many times they can complete a task in one minute.
“What’s nice, is our volunteers can bring their own kids, but right now, my family (wife, Linda, and children, Bryce, Brad and Sierra) is the main base, and our board will volunteer,” Wyeth said. “And we do background checks on all our volunteers.”
Wyeth said while the center has been open for a few weeks, attendance has been slim and admits it’s been a bit hard to get the word out to the community.
“For something like this, it’s going to take a while to get going,” Wyeth said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people — people at the schools — and we’ve given fliers to several elementary schools.”
Wyeth says Icky’s Youth Center is about having a safe and fun place for children to go, and for youth who might not have connections to another social environment.
“We’re an environment where kids can come to have fun, learn something and interact with one another, and realize that you can have fun and be in a monitored environment,” Wyeth said. “You don’t have to be on the streets, you don’t have to stay at home by yourself. You can come here and be a part of something.”
For information about Icky’s Youth Center, contact Pastor Chuck Wyeth at 505-397-4195.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.