Chris Thompson, director of Metro Pittsburgh Youth for Christ, said everything fell into place to establish the local chapter’s first youth center in Canonsburg.
When the organization heard the former National Guard armory next to Canonsburg Middle School was going up for sale, they knew the building and location were perfect. Yet the center only became a reality about a week before sale bids closed, at which time a donor gave Youth for Christ more than $200,000 to purchase the armory.
“The timing of the gift was really kind of miraculous,” Thompson said. The donor does not wish to be named.
While the organization still needs about $450,000 to fully renovate the building, the first phase of construction will begin next week. Thompson and others involved with the project hope the Armory Youth Center will open by fall for the new school year.
By the time its doors open to middle- and high-school students, the center will have a newly renovated gymnasium with bleachers, a batting cage and basketball court. After that is completed, organizers hope to construct a fitness center, recreation room with pool and ping-pong tables, a kitchen, lounge and additional space for educational programs.
The two-story, historical landmark was built in 1938 and closed in 2010 after the National Guard restructured its unit bases. The armory was used by troops who served in the 103rd Medical Regiment, which was heavily involved in the Battle of the Bulge and fighting in the Philippines during World War II.
The Armory Youth Center recycled the National Guard’s motto, “Always Ready, Always There,” instead applying it to the children and teenagers it will help.
Buzz Gardner, capital campaign chairman, said the youth center is much needed in Canonsburg because there’s a high number of single-parent households and families whose incomes fall below the poverty line.
“Naturally, that means that parent is probably out working and not able to spend full time with the kids, so there’s a lot of at-risk kids out there with time on their hands,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s son, JR Gardner, will serve as director of the youth center once it is open.
Youth for Christ believes teenagers who do not participate in after-school programs are three times more likely to skip classes, use drugs and drink alcohol. Gardner said they are working with Canon-McMillan School District to develop programs that would interest students and are not currently offered in school.
In the meantime, they are applying for all the grants they can find. Gardner said they will accept private donations and are “looking for someone to step up” to help put their vision into action.