SALEM - Young people minister to other young people and share their experiences - that's why the ROC of Salem Youth Center works.
That was the feeling of ROC Director Eric Hamilton and ROC Board Chairman Larry Cecil as they both explained the success of the non-denominational community youth ministry located at 261 S. Lundy Ave., the site of the former St. John the Evangelist Romanian Orthodox Church.
"We're becoming much more of a Christian mission outreach and much less than just a hangout," Cecil said.
From left, Virginia Begalla and Georgiana Bailey, former members of St. John the Evangelist Romanian Orthodox Church in Salem, recall years gone by as they look at some of the photographs of social life at the South Lundy Avenue church which closed in 1990. Bailey is wearing a Romanian blouse. The history of the church was part of an open house held Sunday at the ROC of Salem Youth Center which now occupies the space. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
The ROC of Salem opened its doors Sunday to give visitors a glimpse inside as part of a Salem Preservation Society event to recall the history of the former church and the families of Romanian descent who called it home.
Besides seeing the many photographs of church life and talking about the history of the church and other churches in Salem, people had the chance to tour the ROC facility, talk to Hamilton and Cecil and meet some of the young people who hang out there for recreation and optional devotions and Bible study discussions.
"It's a good and safe place to be," 19-year-old Josh Dilling said.
The Salem teen said people come there to play sports and to think about Christ. He said there's a lot they do there. All the activities are free and optional, including basketball, volleyball, ping pong, billiards, foosball, air hockey, cornhole, Wii video gaming, concerts, tournaments, socializing, food, all-night lock-ins and a time of Bible devotion and discussion.
The ministry is a nonprofit organization run by a director, adult volunteers and board members from churches in the Salem area, but is not affiliated with any particular church or denomination. The center is open from 7 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday and Saturday for young people ages 14 to 20.
"I just come here to be with my friends and learn more about Jesus and get closer to Jesus," 18-year-old Ashley McDaniel of Beloit said. She's a member of the ROC worship band as a singer.
Cecil said the ROC has helped some of the teens enormously. Some come from dysfunctional families, some come with no concept of church and some with no sense of right or wrong or values, but by talking with some of the other teens and young people, by attending some of the Bible discussions, they see they have an opportunity for a new life. They can change their situation.
"We're not a church. Our goal is to try to feed the youth groups in town," he said, referring to the youth groups at different churches.
Hamilton said the kids who come to the ROC represent a melting pot of the area and they all seem to get along in this environment, while at school they may be segregated into the various groups that exist, such as the athletes or the smart kids, rich kids or poor kids.
"Hopefully we're planting seeds. Maybe we'll see some of those seeds mature," he said.
The ROC began in 2009, the product of a Boy Scout Bible study in Salem. Cecil said one of the boys had a dream of resurrecting a previous youth hangout and the ROC was born, "designed to be an introduction of Christianity to unchurched youth," according to an informational sheet about the ROC.
Many of the young people who help with the programming became Christians at the ROC and can relate to other kids about their own difficult times. The youth who assist and adult volunteers are members of a Venture crew 2011 chartered to the ROC of Salem by the Boy Scouts of America. All adult volunteers go through a criminal background check and taken youth protection training required by scouting.
The ROC is overseen by a board of directors comprised of representatives from Salem area churches, including Old North, Salem First United Methodist, Salem First United Presbyterian, Salem First Christian, St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in Salem and Greenford Christian. Board members besides Cecil include Jeff Barton, Tim Bowser, Wayne Clark, Meta Cramer, Doug George, Roger Hack, Sondra O'Donnel, Scott Washam and Denise Weingart. Besides Hamilton, who is paid, Josh Harbin serves as assistant director.
First United Methodist Church of Salem owns the former church building and leases it to the ROC of Salem for a dollar and the payment of utilities. The ministry relies on monetary donations and donations of food and time by organizations and volunteers.
Donations can be made to the ROC of Salem, c/o Roger Hack, treasurer, at Hack, Steer & Company, 214 E. Second St., Salem, Ohio 44460.
Anyone interested in sponsoring a meal for a night or an all-night lock-in or wants to volunteer can contact Hamilton at 330-974-8844 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com