By Paula Walter
The Johnson County Community Center has become a haven for those students who attend Johnson County Middle School and Johnson County High School. It is not only a gathering place to visit friends, but it’s also a safe, clean place for kids. The adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” is an apt description of the involvement and care the entire community puts forth to help and nurture its youth.
The center is run by a staff that includes Flo Bellamy, director; Eva Dishman, education director; Gail Snyder, cook and mentor and the main go-to person; Eunice Snyder, who is in charge of cooking and keeping necessary records and Earl Gambill, the athletic director. According to Bellamy, the group rotates jobs so if someone is out; it’s not a crisis. “Everyone knows what everyone does,” Bellamy stated. “We do anything that needs to be done,” added Gail Snyder.
According to Eunice Snyder, to work with the kids at the center, you have to love children. She has been there approximately 13 years. “We cook, we clean, we keep detailed records,” she stated.
According to Bellamy, the center concentrates on feeding the kids and providing them with resources to help assist them where needed, included tutoring. “Kids are the main focus we have,” she stated. “It’s a safe, clean place for kids. The whole community is aware of the necessity of the program, and that’s why they are so supportive.” According to Bellamy, the center receives a lot of donations from the community, boxes of food that will go toward feeding the hungry youth who come to the center. “We receive food from churches and businesses,” she stated. “They will come through and bring us food.” The center also receives donations of money and food from individuals and businesses, along with an account at one of the local grocery stores that allow Bellamy to have enough funds to feed the children.
It’s during the cold weather that a number of students who frequent the community center increase. Most of the kids stay hunkered down inside the community center when the weather turns bad. Sometimes there are 75 kids at the center, many with a good appetite. “We feed the kids, no matter the number,” said Bellamy. According to Bellamy, the kitchen is licensed.
According to Gail Snyder, they try to get the kids to eat new and different foods. “We all do what’s needed to be done,” she stated. “We’ve got each other’s back.
According to Bellamy, when school is in session, there are 50 plus students a day, sometimes upwards of 75. Most of the students who come to the center live in the county, so when school is out, transportation can be an issue for them to go to the center. When school is in session, students walk from the middle and high schools. The center stays open until 5 p.m. if the school is out, and 6 p.m. if the school is in
The center is required to have childcare licensing. Everyone that works with the students, even volunteers, undergo a background check and fingerprinting that is updated every five years.
According to Bellamy, the community center has specific criteria they need to follow to apply for grants necessary to pay their employees. “All the people work beyond their pay,” she stated.
According to Gambill, he likes to keep the kids busy with activities such as basketball, football, pool, and ping-pong. If needed, Gambill steps right in to assist anyone in at the center. “He makes killer gravy,” Eunice stated. Gambill also is in charge of the community pool and hiring certified lifeguards. According to Gambill, he likes to hire students within the county as summertime lifeguards. “It’s a good opportunity for kids to earn money,” he added.
Eva Dishman is the educational director. She processes information needed for grants for the Leaps program and keeps up with the various educational opportunities offered at the center. Dishman collects data to be reported to the state for various grants. She also works part-time for Mountain City.
According to Bellamy, there is structured time at the community center. Everywhere the students go, they have to check in with the adult in the area, who carries a two-way radio.
The center also provides opportunities for tutoring. The students contact the tutor to set up a time. The employees at the center are there to monitor the safety of the student and the tutor.
When school is in session, the center is open from 10 a.m to 6 pm. When school is out, the center’s hours are 10 a.m to 5 p.m. During the summer months, it is open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
The community center is also open to the public for a range of activities. For those non-profit companies, there is no fee to use the center. If someone wants to use the center for a paid event, it’s a minimum of two hours at $25 an hour. “We’re the cheapest in town,” Bellamy stated.
Johnson County Community Center director Flo Bellamy, right is joined by staff members
Eva Dishman, Gail Snyder, Eunice Snyder and Earl Gambill. The facility has become a heaven for
are youth to gather afterschool. Photo by Paula Walter