Saturday, March 24, 2018

Joanie Matovich holds a photo she keeps in her office of the first meeting place of the Stillwater Youth Center.

Mother’s prayer blossoms into Stillwater Youth Center

It started out as one mother’s desire to create a place for her three children to be surrounded by positive peer pressure outside the home.
Joanie Matovich spent an entire year in prayer and in conversations with area pastors about an idea for a non-denominational youth center where kids around the county could congregate in a safe Christian-based environment that offered fun, fellowship and the opportunity for kids to learn about and strengthen their spiritual lives.
The idea resonated with the church communities and by 1995, the Stillwater Youth Center was holding meetings in a garage owned by Bob Grummett in Columbus.
Fast forward 20 years to present day and SYC is drawing between 65 to 100 kids every week at a building of its own with 1.5 paid staff and a small army of volunteers.

“We trusted God to provide”
By 2005, SYC had outgrown the Grummett’s garage and was renting the former Stillwater Recreation Center building on Pike Avenue. In 2006, the opportunity presented itself to purchase the building for $250,000. A grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust paid $100,000 on the condition that SYC come up with the balance required in two weeks.
“We trusted God to provide,” said Matovich. “The Lord really worked in that situation...(and) the community was fantastic.”

What It’s All About
SYC’s mission statement reads as follows: “...a Christian organization serving 3rd grade through senior high youth in Stillwater County. A youth director and volunteer mentors provide programming and supervision. The Center is a place for youth to socialize, recreate, and study in a supportive Christian atmosphere.”
It strives to accomplish these goals through study, fun and fellowship.
Open from 3:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. during the school year and until 10 p.m. during the summer, it is geared for middle school and high schoolers but also includes third through fifth graders during the school year.
Regular meetings include movie night every Friday, game night each Thursday, junior high youth group on Tuesday nights and senior high youth groups every Wednesday night. The Boys & Girls Bible Study meets at 7 a.m. every Friday with breakfast provided and parents welcome.
The work and dedication put into the building - and the cause - is obvious.
On the main floor is a racquet ball court that is adaptable to volleyball, basketball, dodgeball and other sports, as well as a game room with a pool table, foosball table, ping pong table, video games and board games.
Upstairs is a Ministry-Media room set up with surround sound and designated for movie nights and youth group meetings. The wall of one room is being prepared with a speciality paint that works like a chalk board, which can be written on then erased. There is also a computer lab, kitchen/cafe area, a snack-shop and restrooms with showers.
Away from the building are retreats, trips to the “Hills Alive” Christian music concert in Rapid City, S.D., every July, the “Students Got Talent” variety show launched just this past spring, roller skating outings, camping and more.
Community service is part of the equation as well. A recent project has involved kids hanging cards on front doors asking if the residence has any prayer needs.
“We’ve gotten some responses from those,” said Matovich.
Jon Rhodes serve as the full-time professional youth director and Ross McCurdy serves in a part-time youth director. Their wives - Kateland Rhodes and Jessica McCurdy - currently serve as volunteer youth directors.

Keeping The Doors Open
SYC is a 501 C (3) non-profit organization that gets all its funding from private donations. Operating costs and Rhodes’ salary are paid entirely through donations from individuals, businesses and churches, as well as one annual fundraiser, Run the Race in August.
Current monthly expenses are $6,000 and are expected to rise with inflation and as the number of kids participating climbs. The Center is also hoping to put McCurdy on full-time status, which would require more funding as well.
A pledge campaign is being initiated to help keep the SYC doors open. More information about that can be found on the website (, Facebook page or by calling SYC at 322-5440.
The Run the Race event this year will be Aug. 22.

People behind SYC
Joanie Matovich serves as the director of ministries, with Don Beard, Christine Fleury, Carol Wayland, Shawna Tjaaland and Matovich serving on the board of directors. Serving as associate board members are Mark Hamilton, Vicki Wilson, Jim Wayland and Donalee Schmidt. In the fall Becky Matovich will be heading up children’s ministry with the help of Katy Matovich and Robin Smith. Jon Rhodes serves as full-time professional youth director and Ross McCurdy serve in a part-time youth director. Their wives - Kateland Rhodes and Jessica McCurdy - currently serve as volunteer youth directors.