The Rec Project Fills a Need for East Ridge Youth

When Christy Chapman and Victoria O’Daniel opened a youth recreation center in East Ridge in the fall of 2021, they had no idea what to expect or who would show up.

“We wanted to do something for the young people of East Ridge, so we decided to create The Rec Project as a safe haven for children after school, a place where they can learn various things like life skills, take taking care of their bodies, their health and well-being, exercising, cooking and just a place to have fun and be able to relax as well,” O’Daniel said by phone.

Initially, The Rec Project had days when only a few kids entered. Chapman said she wasn’t sure about keeping it open.

Then one day a large group she had never seen before walked in.

“Within 15 minutes, 15 more came in,” Chapman said in an interview. “They’ve been here every day since.”

Most young people come from low-income families living in unstable housing situations, she said. Some witnessed violence or abuse and at first filled their pockets with as much food as they could to avoid going hungry at home.

Chapman said she and the staff didn’t expect to serve those with such great needs, but they embraced them.

Chapman previously ran a gym, Our House Studios, in the space that now houses The Rec Project. After Chapman moved the gym, which O’Daniel manages, to Cloud Springs Road in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, she noticed some kids playing basketball in the old gym’s parking lot after school.

The idea of ​​converting the space into a leisure center for young people was born from there.

(READ MORE: Shortage of staff leaves after-school programs with unmet demand)

Basketball is still a popular activity for youngsters in the afterschool program, and inside there’s still practice equipment that older teens use.

There are also punching bags that Chapman said volunteer coaches use to teach participants how to manage aggression in healthy ways and mats where kids enthusiastically demonstrate cartwheels, handstands and backflips. .

The center has a full kitchen and a pantry stocked with snacks that visitors can eat whenever they want. Several dozen cups, each printed with the name of a child, line the counters.

“That’s part of how I keep everyone’s name,” Chapman said, adding that 20 to 25 kids show up at the center every day.

Last Thursday, 6-year-old Aurora Smith sat at a table with an assortment of beads of all shapes and colors laid out before her, selecting her favorites to thread one by one onto a piece of string she asked Chapman to tie . on his wrist.

Audrey Sherrard, 15, was curled up on a couch with a coloring book. She said Chapman was the main reason she liked coming to the Rec Project.

“She treats us all so well, she gives us stuff all the time, she feeds us, she really cares about us,” Aubrey said of Chapman. “She makes you feel at home.”

Braylen Green, 9, was playing pool with Tim Smith, a parent volunteer at the center. Braylen said he also enjoys boxing and playing basketball.

Groups of three or four children continued to stream into the center throughout the early afternoon as they walked there from school.

(READ MORE: New LIFT Youth Center offers free after-school program at Ringgold)

Next to the main room is another much quieter room with computers and a table and chairs where students can go to do their homework. A closet is stocked with donated clothes, toiletries and school supplies that children are welcome to take away for free.

The center also has an exam room where Dr. Terry Melvin, who is also chairman of the organization’s board of directors, offers a free monthly health clinic as well as school or sports physical exams upon request at no charge. .

The Rec Project is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers in a building owned by Chapman with mostly donated furniture and play equipment.

The children receive a meal each day, so the center always needs food donations and willing volunteers to cook. O’Daniel said the center also needs help stocking its pantry with snacks and healthy foods that families in need can take home.

Adult volunteers are needed not only to supervise children, but also to get to know them and provide mentorship, O’Daniel said.

“A good portion of the children who come need a lot of attention, so the more volunteers we can have, the more these children can interact with adults who facilitate positive relationships and teach them to trust and respect each other. other,” O’Daniel said.

Teaching children life skills is a big part of the curriculum, Chapman said.

Volunteers from another organization, Rise Up Cooperative, come to the center once a month to provide life skills training on topics such as finances or bullying.

(READ MORE: Chattanoogan Sandy Pricer shares the idea and inspiration behind Rise Up)

The center is open to children in elementary through high school, and families must pay a registration fee of $5 per day or weekly tuition. Those who cannot afford the full amount can apply for a scholarship to receive a discount based on parents’ income, or parents can volunteer at the center for a certain number of hours instead of paying scholarship fees.

“If they’re not able to because they’re working and don’t have time to volunteer and just need a safe place for their kids, then we take that as well,” said O’Daniel. “We don’t turn anyone away for financial hardship.”

One of the centre’s long-term goals is to raise enough money to buy a 15-passenger van to provide transportation between schools and the centre, as most children currently walk there – and some have to walk quite long distances, O’Daniel said.

To learn more about The Rec Project, visit recprojectinc.com.

HOW TO HELP

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, The Rec Project is hosting a car wash at the center to raise funds for a trip to High Point Climbing Gym and Mellow Mushroom. Located at 6101 Ringgold Road, Suite 107, The Rec Project is also in need of volunteers and donations of food, clothing, toiletries and school supplies. Monetary donations to the non-profit organization are also welcome.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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