By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
Joshua Smith spent most of his teens on probation because of an affinity for drugs and alcohol, but gradually changed his law-breaking ways after hanging out in a nondescript building that local youths refer to as “The Rock.”
Today, Smith is 21, employed and planning to marry this fall.
He credits his sobriety and law-abiding attitude to a relationship with God and Lynette Gingrich, founder of Solid Rock Youth Zone at 275 W. Market St.
“It changed my atmosphere,” Smith said of the hangout that has attracted dozens of teens most Friday evenings for the past eight years.
Gingrich said she was drawn to Middleburg to establish a faith-based center for youths.
“There are a lot of very troubled kids in Snyder County. I had a dream to build a place for them to come and hang out and build relationships,” she said.
As she spoke, a group of kids huddled around a billiard table and another group lounged on a sofa playing cards as a wall-mounted television tuned to a contemporary Christian music channel played softly.
Sound Truth Ministries in Freeburg, led by Gingrich’s husband, Tim, and the day care/preschool she operates help fund the youth center, which is open daily during the summer from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and year-round from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays.
The Rock also provides free lunches each weekday during the summer from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to all children ages 5 to 18 through a program subsidized by the state Department of Education.
“We haven’t had to have any major attractions, they just really gravitate to here,” said Gingrich.
She and her husband bought the building in 2005 at a judicial sale for $8,500. “It was God,” Gingrich said, attributing the ease in which the building was purchased.
With the help of the church, donations and a grant from the SEDA-Council of Governments, they’ve made about $50,000 in improvements to the building, including a state-of-the-art kitchen.
Gingrich started the program with the hope of providing a family atmosphere to troubled youths, some of whom have been in jail and many of whom come from broken homes.
“They call this place their church,” she said.
Though established as a faith-based center, Gingrich said the teens who show up aren’t preached at but are accepted for who they are and shown love and respect.
“We demonstrate Jesus,” she said. “It’s not about rules. We can’t change those kids on the outside, we’re going after what’s inside.”
Smith said he was given a chance to get his life on track by Gingrich, who hired him to do small jobs around the center. It was also at the center where he met his fiance, Ashley Walter, of Kreamer, who is employed as preschool director.
“I was close to going to prison. Now, I feel blessed,” he said.
Gingrich is partnering with the Snyder County Coalition for Kids, a recently formed group working on youth development and delinquency prevention efforts through a countywide collaboration.
Coalition member District Attorney Michael Piecuch said centers like The Rock are needed to support area youths.
“Community involvement with our kids is what we’re promoting,” he said.
Gingrich hopes to bring more people on board as she envisions an expansion of the center.
“I’m not done yet,” she said of plans to expand the building and enhance programs. “I want to see a place where I can hire teenagers. They hunger for jobs, but some have issues and just need someone to give them a chance.”