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Key Peninsula’s beloved Red Barn, recovered from financial crisis, carries on for kids

Key Peninsula youth enjoy what Red Barn has to offer

In the February 2016 file video, children on the Key Peninsula find the Red Barn Youth Center a safe place to go after school.
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In the February 2016 file video, children on the Key Peninsula find the Red Barn Youth Center a safe place to go after school.

The Red Barn is back in the kid business.

The Key Peninsula after-school activity center has emerged from a financial crisis and has resumed normal operation, its board president said Monday.

With an ice-cream social on Tuesday, the Red Barn welcomed a new batch of middle-school and high-school students to hang out, play games or do homework in the converted hay barn.

“The Key Peninsula community really stepped up for us,” said board president Peter Hedin. “We got a nice grant, we did a Facebook and a GoFundMe campaign, and now we’re actually in pretty good financial shape.”

The nonprofit was forced to cut back in the spring because of a shortfall in operating funds. At the last minute, the Children’s Home Society of Washington stepped in with a quickly improvised “Key Kidz” program at the landmark barn.

That program ended this week, and the Red Barn was handed back to its founders.

As part of its financial overhaul, the Red Barn lost its executive director, Cliff Rosson. Hedin, a retired accountant, said he will now become “more involved in day-to-day operations” of the youth center.

Hedin said contributions over the summer, including a “sizeable” foundation grant, made it possible to fund four adult positions, which is optimum for the site.

“With four people supervising, we can open everything for the kids,” he said. “If we have fewer than four, we have to partition off some areas. We like the kids to have the run of the place.”

The Red Barn was started in the 1990s by area churches. It became a nonprofit in 2014. The idea was to provide a place for middle and high school students to go after school.

Located at 15921 84th Street NW near Key Center, the building had been used for hay storage facility, a film-packing facility and more before the churches purchased it. Volunteers fixed up the building before opening the youth center. Grants from Pierce County, among others, financed the renovations.

But last year, the Red Barn lost some important corporate grants that were earmarked for utilities, food, heating and cooling and more.

“In today’s environment, it’s difficult to find operating dollars,” Hedin said.

When Red Barn announced it would have to close for the summer, the Children’s Home Society moved swiftly to create the Key Kidz program.

“We’re really proud of what we were able to put together so quickly,” said Gina Cabiddu, program manager for CHSW’s Key Peninsula Family Resource Center. “And we’re very grateful to our funders and community partners.”

Among them, she said, were the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor, PenMet Parks, the Angel Guild, and Food Backpacks 4Kids, which provided meals.

The summer program worked so well that CHSW has agreed to repeat it next year, she said.

“We’re super excited,” she said, “because we only had a few weeks to plan for this summer, and now we have a whole year.”

The Red Barn is open 2:30-6 p.m. during the week. Students are dropped off after school for food, study hall, speakers and classes. They can also get an afternoon meal and snacks, play video games, air hockey. or basketball outside. Recently the nonprofit finished renovating its back room, which will be used for classes, speakers and can be rented as public event hall.

Staff members say the Red Barn is a refuge for many students whose families are less well-off. Some students come from families with substance-abuse problems, and The Red Barn is a safe place to find friends and eat. In the semi-rural Key Peninsula, it is one of the few places kids have to hang out.

About three dozen students used the facility during the summer, Cabidu said.

As the Key Kidz summer program wound down, CHSW hosted an all-community ice cream social Aug. 8 which was attended by nearly 200 people.

There were parents and children, funders, elected and wanna-be elected officials, Pierce County Library leaders, and KP Fire Department representatives who enjoyed ice cream, water balloon tosses, and egg races.

Cabiddu described the Ice Cream Social as “an invitation to celebrate the success of the Key Kidz program, appreciation for donors and funders of the program, and to “unite the community in a Key Peninsula place of pride.”

Hugh McMillan contributed to this story

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the name of the summer program and the number of children it served. It is Key Kidz, not Hey Kidz. The program served about 40 children over the course of the summer, not daily.

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