By Rosemarie Dowell
Positive Press News
LEESBURG – The Rev. Mike Matheny is hoping his church’s newly opened teen center will become a hot spot for area middle and high school students who could use some fun and games, along with mentoring.
The Thrive Center in Leesburg, a community outreach of Church of the Lakes, opened June 29, and offers area youth and teens a free place to meet others, play a variety of games like ping-pong and Foose ball, and receive scripture-based lessons.
Thrive, 1511 South Street, is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Fridays and from Noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Director Eden Lynch and or trained volunteers/mentors are always onsite.
“They can come to hang out and have some fun in a safe, positive environment,” said Matheny, founding pastor of Leesburg-based Church of the Lakes. “But we also have a Biblically-based mentoring curriculum too.”
“Our goal is to have kids come and go through a lesson and to have a beginning understanding of who God is,” he said.
The roughly 1,800-square foot center, a former auto repair shop, welcomes all middle and high school students from the area, but the center is focusing its outreach efforts on at-risk youth and teens living in the nearby Stock subdivision and surrounding streets, said Matheny.
“We are open for everyone, but we are excited about serving kids in Stock subdivision,” he said. “We would love to make a difference with those kids especially.”
Matheny, a father of five as well as a foster parent, said another component of Thrive will be its, “Trade Saturday,” a program held every other week and featuring local tradesmen that are willing to share their skills and knowledge with the youth.
“It’ll introduce kids to a trade,” he said. “More than likely kids in this neighborhood aren’t going to college; they have three options, get a job, go into the military or worse, go on government subsidies.”
“We want to help them avoid number three,” said Matheny, who serves as the Leesburg Police Department’s chaplain.
Local auto mechanics, including one from Gator Harley Davidson and a boat mechanic have agreed to participate, along with several other tradesmen.
“We have partnerships that are amazing,” he said. “UF Health Leesburg is on board with field trips, and we partnering with Lake Tech too.”
“The mechanic will teach the kids how to change oil and other basic skills,” said Matheny. “We’ll put the word out for single moms and widows to come and have their oil changed for free, with oversight by the professional.”
But Trade Saturday won’t just feature male-dominated careers, he said.
“We’ll have programs for females too,” he said. Lynch, who was in the military, and went to culinary school, is planning on leading several programs geared towards females, he added.
Thrive’s initial start was funded by local business owners and the monies will keep it running for a while, said Metheny.
In the meantime, Matheny said he’s planning on fundraising, and reaching out to businesses in the area to see if they’d consider sponsoring a teen or program.
“We plan on having a big golf tournament to help pay the bills,” he said. “But we’ll let business owners know we are dealing with kids in their neighborhood who are their potential employees and see if they’ll embrace the concept too.”
For details on Thrive, go to cotlakes.com/