With school coming back into session, the annual question arises of what to do with kids who are too old for day care and not ready to stay home by themselves, or now that you are in college, where are you supposed to hang out and relax?
The Sapling Center in Pikeville is a place where these children and youths can hang-out, relax and have fun without worry by with supervision.
“The Sapling Center opened here last year and we are currently located next to Heavenly Donuts, but we are in the process of relocating to a new location on Division Street,” said Alex White, Sapling Center coordinator. “Our doors are open for anyone ages 14-25 who wants to come in, hang out or have someone to talk to.”
Funded by state grants, Kentucky River Community Care currently has six Sapling Centers open in Breathitt, Floyd, Letcher, Knott and Perry counties as well as in Pike County.
“We have free wi-fi, video games, board games, movies, a pool table, a ping-pong table and lots of places to curl up and read,” said Smith. “Most of the time, we average about five-15 people coming in a day after school and hanging out.”
Some of the services provided by the center are tutoring and homework help, snacks and meals and transportation to and from the center within Pike County, said Smith.
“When we get relocated to Division Street, we will also have shower facilities and a washer and dryer and be able to make the meals onsite,” he said. “We try to help some of the older kids, like college-aged, with life skills like learning how to cook a meal, do laundry and day to day chores they may have never paid attention to before leaving home on their own.”
The Sapling Center also resources to help these transitional-aged kids deal with deeper issues beyond boredom.
“Being a kid is tough, and I wanted to be there to help them,” said Katie Bush, Sapling Center community support associate. “We also can help teach someone necessary life skills, like how to fill out a job application, do their taxes or things like emotional regulation skills when facing life’s challenges.”
Bush said that the center has a licensed clinician available for kids to talk to as well.
“It’s their choice, and it’s free, but if someone comes in with a crisis and feels like they need that help, it is there,” she said.
In addition to the center being a safe haven for kids to talk without judgement, peer-to-peer services are provided by Brandon Smith, peer-services coordinator. He said that peer-to-peer services, similar to a Big Brother/Big Sister mentorship program, gives the kids someone to talk to that they can relate to.
“I’ve been where a lot of these kids have been,” said Smith. “I wish I could have had a place like this when I was that age — it may have saved me a lot of trouble.”
Part of that, according to White, is teaching how to give back to the community.
“About once a month we host community projects like volunteering at the Pike County Animal Shelter, or like later this month, we are holding a picnic and trash pick-up down at the Pikeville Pond,” he said. “We also hold occasional field trips to the East Kentucky Science Center in Prestonsburg, to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza in Pikeville or to the movies.”
White said that while counseling or other services are available, most of the kids they deal with are just there to have some fun.
“There has been some misunderstanding about what we do, and we are doing our best to correct that,” he said. “While these counseling services are here, this is not the primary focus. We are here as a safe haven for these kids during what can be the hardest times of their lives. Someplace where they can learn and discover who they are and where we can provide the support and resources for them to follow their dreams.”