Local family youth center believes it will expand

Little by little backers of the Wallowa County Family Youth Center are converting skeptics into believers. Even those who guffaw at the possibility of placing an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and amphitheater on their 4.88 acres of land located midway between Enterprise and Joseph have to admit that the group is making positive strides in that direction.

Big projects begin with little steps and some backers, including the young organization's director of public relations Terry DeSpain, contend that the accomplishments made in the past year are anything but small.

Benefiting from a $200,000 low interest loan from an anonymous donor whose payback depends on how much the group can accomplish in the next few years, the property was purchased and an aggressive plan for future development, based on the procurement of additional funds, was drafted.

Like nothing else of this magnitude in Wallowa County, the goal is to create a major recreational and social center for both youth and adults from Wallowa to Imnaha.

Phase I of the ambitious project - taking advantage of the existing two story building on the grounds - first opened its doors to the public Jan. 15 and now boasts three pool tables, two foos ball tables, a ping pong table, two air hockey tables, an electrical dart board, a library complete with computers, a meeting room which will hold over 60 people and a workout weight room complete with a bathroom and shower.

And it is being used. Students and adults from throughout the county are availing themselves of the center individually or in groups ranging from church youth groups to dance and aerobic classes.

DeSpain said that since Jan. 15 the center has signed on 57 paying family or individual members. The board of directors has a goal of securing 150 to 200 monthly pledges from donors who support their efforts. As of last week 43 units had committed to make monthly or annual pledges.

Other efforts to bring an indoor swimming pool to the county have come and gone. One in Wallowa, going by the name of the Mountain Movers, had land donated for a facility by the Wallowa School District but could find no way on paper to keep a pool financially afloat once it was built.

The Wallowa County Family Youth Center seems to be building on a solid base. A board of directors has been named and plans are in place to create both an adult and a youth advisory board. Enterprise City Administrator Michele Young is supplying the organization with names of persons from her community who were active supporters of the county's last public pool, the Enterprise city pool, which closed after the summer of 2001. The creation of a fact finding committee for the proposed swimming pool is in the works. Too, the active group under the guidance of director of activities Darrel Gilliland is doing what is necessary to make its effort a legally approved nonprofit; a designation which will make the body more appealing to granting agencies.

With a pool priced at $3 million, a gymnasium priced at $1.5 million and an outdoor amphitheater with a $100,000 price tag, DeSpain says the biggest need at present is for a bona fide grant writer to step up and join the 40 to 50 physical volunteers who, not counting financial donors, are already contributing to the community effort.

There are a lot of grant dollars on the horizon today and it is not inconceivable that an organized, persistent, energetic effort with visions as high as the Gates Foundation could find a niche for funding.

Persons wishing a tour of the facility or interested in helping in any way are encouraged to call the center at 432-0750.

Don't guffaw yet. The Wallowa County Family Youth Center might be the real deal. - BRW

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