ELKHART — When he got word that the Lifeline — Youth for Christ building caught on fire last Sunday morning, executive director Darrell Peterson had no doubt that the club meetings the ministry provides for its children would continue.
Terrance Hall, 13, attends the middle school boys' club and said he was glad that they were still able to meet, despite their different quarters.
“Lifeline's one of the funnest places,” he said.
They have moved the elementary children's meeting to Mary Beck Elementary School, since many of the children attend the school. The middle and high school boys' clubs will meet at the gym in the Roosevelt Center, while the middle and high school girls will rotate among various locations.
Peterson said the decision to move the meetings to these locations was designed to make it easy for the children. Many live in the neighborhood and even though some churches in outlying areas offered their spaces, he did not want to make it difficult for the children to come to Lifeline.
About 200 kids are in the program. Caleb Stanton, who directs the elementary school, middle school and sports programs at Lifeline, said that he and other staff members used Facebook to reach out to as many of the children as they could to let them that they would still have club meetings. Since many of the children don't have cell phones or easy access to the Internet, getting the word out could take some time. Stanton said the girls were especially distraught over the fire.
“They thought because the building burned down, we would leave them,” he said.
Intern Brandon Maxwell thought he was dreaming when he first got word of the fire. After seeing the damaged building on Monday, Maxwell was shocked at the damage.
“There's a long road ahead of us with the cleaning process,” he said.
Lifeline executive director Darrell Peterson arrived at the scene around 5 a.m. that day. He had been told that the building behind Lifeline was on fire, so he expected to see a few charred bricks. When he got there, the firefighters were still pouring water on the building. Peterson was surprised at how much damage there was, not just from the fire, but from the water damage.
“In a building of our size, you don't think you're going to lose almost everything,” he said.
Joseph Jackson, 13, attends the middle school boys' club and has been coming to Lifeline for a year. When he got the news about the fire, he thought it was a joke. He had only been there a few days before.
Overall, the children took the news well and are adapting to their surroundings.
“They just want to have fun and be with people they know care about them,” Maxwell said.
The hardest part of using different buildings for their meetings is the disruption in their routine. For the boys meetings, they typically do 1 1/2 hours of play time, lesson time, small groups, dinner and an organized activity. Since they can only use the gym at the Roosevelt Center for their boys groups, the echoes can be distracting and make it hard for the kids to focus.
“It'll be a lot harder to bring structure to our program,” Stanton said.
Staff members and others came out twice this week to help clean up the site. Peterson said he hopes to be back in the building by Thanksgiving, since parts of it were not badly damaged, though he admits it will be difficult. He said he wasn't sure when he would know what their insurance would cover. They are accepting donations to begin the rebuilding process.
“My goal is that this will be the fastest restoration for a building our size ever,” he said.
Roger Duffy, the president of the Lifeline board, said he started attending the club in seventh grade after getting into trouble with the law. He has been on the board for eight years and before that was a frequent donor to Lifeline. Duffy credits Lifeline for instilling in him a moral code.
“It's made me everything I've ever become,” he said.
“To be a part of this ministry today, it's amazing,” Duffy added. “Because I know how effective it is, not just because of my own experience. I am one of thousands of these types of stories.”
Even though they have months of rebuilding ahead, Peterson is optimistic. He hopes to rebuild a better facility and is pleased to see a strong and positive response from the community.
“It's an inconvenience, but Lifeline is more than a building,” he said. “When we get back in our building, I think it'll be better than ever.”
For information on Lifeline and how to help, go to www.yfcministries.com.