A Franklin County ministry that focuses on homeless and at-risk youth is looking for a place for a youth center in St. Clair.
Mark Moebius, president and founder of Jireh Ministries, said he hopes to establish these centers in each Franklin County school district, but picked St. Clair as the pilot program because the district had the most “at-risk” children in the area.
Although it is in the beginning planning stage, Moebius said he envisions a center in or near downtown St. Clair that would be easy for children to access by walking or biking.
Moebius said he has scouted several properties for lease along Main Street.
“I want it to be a place where kids can come and hang out and have something to do,” he said. “We would like to have a Wii or PlayStation and maybe have a pool table.”
Moebius said Jireh Ministries has funding to start up the youth center, but needs to raise money for the monthly operations. He also is looking for volunteers to help supervise the young people.
The plans are still in beginning stages, but Moebius hopes to have the project off the ground in the coming months.
Jireh Ministries has many different outreach services to help children in Franklin County. It launched a Safe Place program at the beginning of this year.
The Safe Place program is part of the National Safe Place non-profit organization based out of Louisville, Ky., which originated in 1983 from an initiative known as Project Safe Place.
“It’s like the block homes we had when we were kids where a kid can go if they are in trouble, but ours are based out of businesses,” Moebius said.
Children who need a place to go during a crisis can duck inside any business displaying the yellow Safe Place sign and seek help from an employee who is specially trained to handle the situation through the Safe Place program.
Although the program targets homeless youth in St. Clair, Moebius said children can go to a safe place for a number of reasons.
“Maybe they don’t like what their friends are doing and need a place to get away,” he said.
When children go to a designated safe place, they can receive help connecting to a hotline that will get them the assistance they need, such as offsite counseling.
“The youth center could double as a place like that,” Moebius said.
Businesses that have volunteered as safe places in St. Clair so far include the St. Clair Healthmart, 855 N. Commercial; Sleep Station, 1271 Gravois Road; and the Mobil gas station on Route 47 near Interstate 44.
Moebius also said he hopes to find people in St. Clair who would be willing to be “host families,” where people in the community would open their homes to children who need a temporary place to stay. He likened it to a foreign exchange student program.
“They could stay with the host family while they seek counseling and work toward being reunited with their family,” he said. “It’s an alternative to foster care.”
For more information, to volunteer as a safe place, or to become a host family, people may visit Jireh Ministries website at www.legacydreamcenter.com.