Kyle Hoskins has been coming to the Red Barn Youth Center on as many days as he can since it opened about 18 months ago.
The Key Peninsula hangout offers after-school activities, study help and mentorship for kids in sixth through 12th grades.
“My favorite part of this is the people that come and help us with whatever problems we have,” said 18-year-old Hoskins, a senior at Peninsula High School.
“They’re very helpful with every aspect. This is also a great place to volunteer. I’ve also had the opportunity here to make new friends that I’ll take to the end.”
The center hosts at least 25 kids a day on average and they’re packed into one room when not enjoying the outdoor spaces, says Executive Director Laura Condon.
But with an annual operating budget of $100,000 and 186 kids attending this year, things are a little tight — both with money and with space.
“We’re full — this is it,” Condon said. “One room isn’t really working for us.”
So, the center is expanding by turning another room in the barn into a multipurpose gymnasium.
The new room, starting from the barn’s bare bones and being built from scratch, eventually will hold a half-court basketball gym and possibly a stage.
“Once this room is done we will have the opportunity to reach out to more kids because there’s a whole lot out there that we haven’t been able to get to yet,” Condon said.
The center was opened after years of looking for a way to provide activities for Key Peninsula kids, said Chief Operating Officer Glen Ehrhardt.
“There were no after-hours programs or things to do for the youth out here, so there was a realized need and the center opened about 11 years later,” he said.
“The kids who come here, they need to be here. For many of these kids, it’s their only opportunity to deal with a good, safe, fun environment, but yet it’s serious enough to talk truth into their lives.”
The center, on an eight-acre property, offers many games and activities, including sports, gardening, acting, music lessons, art, pool, foosball and air hockey.
Inside the barn are game tables, a large table work area, a kitchen, coffee bar, television and lots of booth seating. Outside is a basketball court, a large lawn, a garden where kids grow vegetables and a sand volleyball court.
The center hosts kids from Key Peninsula Middle School, Peninsula High School and Henderson Bay High School, as well as youth who are homeschooled.
“We don’t turn kids away. This was intended originally for Key Peninsula youth, but if kids want to travel out here, they certainly could,” Condon said with a grin.
Many organizations seek out partnerships with the center because it’s shown so much success and growth within the community in the last year, Ehrhardt said.
“When we first opened we were just so excited to be open to help kids after school,” Condon said. “But now we see the Red Barn as having a responsibility in the community — being that we serve the youth out here — that we really need to take a bigger role.”
To help meet that need, the center provides a venue for rallies, fundraisers, forums, discussions and support for Key Peninsula.
The center runs largely on donations — of food, money and time.
“We have a small budget and very few paid staff,” Condon said. “As we continue to expand and grow we are really going to need to increase the amount of help that we have.”
Turning volunteers into mentors will become more of a priority, she said.
Successful mentorships can take time, she said. Some kids have taken a year, meeting every day after school, to build strong and trusting relationships with the center’s mentors.
“They don’t always come from an environment where trust is natural, so it takes time to build that,” Condon said.
As for the center’s expansion, fundraising and grant-writing for the new room is well underway for the $330,000 project, Condon said.
The center has received $135,000 and is in the approval process for another large grant request. Any remaining funds will be acquired through further grants, fundraisers and donations.
With the new room comes the opportunity for new activities.
Condon said she dreams of hosting open-mic nights on Fridays and having more fun events for kids. She hopes the center also will be able to put on more community events for kids and parents, including hosting guest speakers.
In the end, all the work is worth it for the kids, she said.
“I wanted to be a teacher and have a positive impact on kids,” Condon said. “But the Red Barn lets me do that at a much bigger level.”
“The best part of all this is knowing our kids have a safe, encouraging place to go that teaches good values,” he said.
Red Barn partners
Among the local organizations that partner with the Red Barn are:
Pierce County, Food Backpack 4 Kids, the Key Peninsula Fire Department, the Peninsula Youth Violence Prevention Coalition, Franciscan Foundation, Two Waters Art Alliance, Key Peninsula Library, Key Peninsula Parks, Communities in Schools, Children’s Home Society and Peninsula School District, which provides school bus transportation to the center.
To donate or learn more about the Red Barn youth center, go to www.redbarnkp.org.
The Red Barn youth center
Where: 15921 84th St. KPN, Lakebay
Activity hours: 2:30-6 p.m. Monday-Friday
Phone number: 253-884-1594