“It’s been a long time coming and it is finally here,” Big Blue Wardensville Chairman Steve Shook remarked about the grand opening.
The vision to have a center for area youth was conceptualized over two years ago and finally came to fruition with faith and dedication as the Big Blue Youth Center held its grand opening in Wardensville last Saturday with a count of 26 teenagers bolstering 60 community members for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Big Blue Wardensville is a collaborative effort between community members, churches and the East Hardy Fellowship of Christian Athletes to provide a center for area youth.
“It’s hard to measure this in words. We have been working on this for two and a half years. We are just thrilled and actually pretty overwhelmed that this many people came today, especially given the weather,” Shook added.
The mission of Big Blue Wardensville is to see local youth thrive and soar and this is being done through providing the area youth a safe place to meet for having fun and sharing meals and discussing life in general without expectations and open the door to reaching them for Christ.
“I know for sure I am excited to be a part of Big Blue. It is something we have been really passionate about and working towards for the past couple of months building up to this moment. It is really awesome to see the building finally opening up. I know we plan to have sports nights in the future where the teenagers can come inside the building and watch sports and we will have speaking events where public speakers will come to talk to us about the grace of God. Outdoor events like the cornhole tournament today and we plan to put up volleyball nets, plus a basketball court. We have a lot of big plans going on for here,” Big Blue Wardensville volunteer Sky Spell stated.
Big Blue Wardensville chairman Steve Shook was in for quite a surprise as East Hardy Fellowship of Christian Athlete student volunteer Sky Spell met the challenge to have 25 or more teenagers come to the grand opening in order to transform Shook’s jeans into shorts called “jorts”.
“One of the kids made a wager that he could get 20 kids here today and asked if he could bring 20 kids if I would wear jorts. I didn’t even know what they were and after they explained it, I said I would do it if they got 25 kids here. They made it by one person, they had 26 teenagers here and so I had to do it,” Shook noted with a smile.
All three were laughing about this experience with the new fashion style given to Shook.
Having met the required number for the bet, Spell joined fellow FCA member volunteer Bryce Tharp in cutting Shook’s jeans in front of the new Big Blue Wardensville Youth Center.
The student volunteers were very helpful setting up tents and chairs, plus the cornhole tournament equipment prior to the start of the grand opening event as the rain clouds began to slowly roll above.
“It is exciting, especially now that the kids will have somewhere to go. They are going to try to throw different things after football games and just somewhere for them to come celebrate. It’s really exciting to have somewhere to go for the kids to have a safe place. I came to a variety of meetings and gave my input on what teenagers my age would be interested in doing more. We just threw ideas around for the adults, because they don’t understand the kids these nowadays and to get more teenagers here. Most of the churches came together, but the focus right now is just to get the teenagers here and we may incorporate a Bible study down the road. Every Saturday we have had a worship [service] for the youth, but right now we just want teenagers to be here and we’re not going to force anything on them,” Big Blue Wardensville volunteer Bryce Tharp remarked.
As the rain started to come down, two youth playing table tennis outside weren’t concerned about the weather “what’s a little rain, it doesn’t hurt anybody.”
Shook had fun playing football with several of the youth and other volunteers were participating in various games.
Sports have played a big role in fundraising for Big Blue Wardensville with a basketball tournament, volleyball tournament and kickball tournament over the past year and there are plans for more sports activities on the premises in addition to special events after football games.
Members of the Hardy County Chamber of Commerce attended the event making it official with a ribbon cutting ceremony as president Tracy Sherman stood alongside Big Blue Wardensville representative Ashley Yates, who cut the ribbon and was joined by Big Blue student volunteers Wren Combs and Emily Moyers, Hardy County Chamber of Commerce member Tessa Foltz, HCCC member Sheldon Arbaugh, Big Blue Chairman Steve Shook, Big Blue Secretary Shanda Walker, Big Blue musician Chris Montgomery, and Big Blue volunteers/FCA members Bryce Tharp and Sky Spell.
“It was very special. I’ve never done something like that before, so it was unique and nerve racking. This program means a lot. If I would have had something like this when I was a kid, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the stuff I did. I am thankful to be here and cutting the ribbon was definitely an honor. It feels good to give back to my community. Some of the exciting new things for the teenagers will be to make new friends, but keep the old. The cornhole tournaments are always fun. This is a fun place to just chill and get away from your family who might drive you crazy. It is just a place to get away from all the bad in the world. There are a lot of opportunities and we just need teenagers to come out. I was afraid there wasn’t going to be anybody here today, but I am overwhelmed and thrilled with the turnout today. I am excited to see what unfolds for Big Blue in the future,” Big Blue Wardensville volunteer Ashley Yates commented.
The grand opening had games indoors such as air hockey, billiards and foosball with the teenagers having a blast playing and cheering each other on during the competitions.
“I’m extremely excited to be a part of this program. There aren’t very many places around here where you can show your faith and have fun doing it,” East Hardy student Miles Kidwell said.
Shook was really happy to score a goal during the air hockey game raising his hands.
The interior was uniquely decorated with inspirational signs including a giant chalkboard with the simple phrase of “What If…” to begin a new sentence for the teenagers to ponder.
Hardy County community member Karen Findley was the bathroom interior designer creating a basketball sports motif for the boys room and a garden motif for the girls room.
The Wardensville United Methodist Church allowed use of the parking lot for the grand opening and pastor Robert Oakley came over to show his support of the Big Blue Youth Center talking with the teenagers there and enjoying the fellowship and food.
“One church can’t do this alone. We are working together to provide a safe and fun environment for our area youth. It is nice to see so many kids here today for the grand opening. It takes a village to reach them,” Wardensville United Methodist Church pastor Robert Oakley noted.
Other churches helped over the past two years in fundraising efforts for Big Blue have included Faith Mission, Assembly of God, Cresthill Community and Sugar Grove Church of the Brethren.
Hardy County Chamber of Commerce member Lauren Michelle was a keynote speaker for the evening providing advice for the teenagers.
“This is incredibly special, especially from my perspective. There isn’t a lot for the kids to do here in the community. I feel like if there is a place for them to come that is low-key with no expectations except for having fun, then to have good people to talk with if they want to will help them in a positive way. We, by no means will not force religion on anybody. That’s not our goal. Our goal is just to be available. It’s been a whole community bonding together to make this happen and it was the fire department who started it all by donating this building to us. We had to raise money to renovate it,” Shook concluded.
Recently, Big Blue Wardensville hosted a baccalaureate ceremony for the Hardy County senior graduates with keynote speakers including pastors/teachers Wade Armentrout, Michael Funkhouser and Henry Hodges.
There will be more speakers coming in the future to talk to the teenagers as they gather to enjoy the fun and fellowship together under the Big Blue Wardensville Youth Center roof.
“I am very excited about the turnout, despite the rain and we had enough numbers for Steve to go into jorts, so that was amazing. We hope that they come back and that more volunteers come, so we can open more than just on Saturday night. We are only open on Saturdays, due to lack of volunteers. This is a call out for volunteers to come out. This is an absolute blessing to be able to do this and I am extremely happy to be a part of it. If your looking for something to fill your heart, there’s nothing better to be doing than this right now especially with COVID-19 we need something that is a blessing,” Big Blue Wardensville secretary Shanda Walker remarked.
The seeds of encouragement and friendship have been planted and will grow to the Big Blue sky.