It’s a Saturday morning and the sound of a basketball hitting the court reverberates throughout the gym in the Saint John Paul II Youth Center.
Sneakers squeak, as players race back and forth down the court in a pickup game during the center’s open gym.
Located on the campus of St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz, the center officially opened on the Feast Day of Saint Timothy in late January.
The 18,000-square-foot facility was built with kids in mind.
Besides basketball, the court can be used for volleyball, kickball and other games.
The youth center also has a café, a recording center, a game room, multiple gathering spaces and a sound system that plays throughout the building.
There’s also a patio area and a green space for outdoor events.
While others were busy playing basketball, 9-year-old Gabe Linder and 10-year-old Aviva Banks were playing a game of Ladder Toss, which involves tossing two balls connected by a string to try to land them on the rung of a ladder.
The kids seemed to be having fun.
The two were good-natured competitors, with Linder coaching Banks, as they went along.
“Try it underhand,” he suggested.
Whenever one of them had a good shot, they were both enthusiastic.
In another room at the center, musicians have a chance to jam and, once it is soundproofed, to record music.
CJ Linder, 10, was in that room — banging out a drum solo.
He paused, briefly, to offer his assessment of the youth center. “I think it’s pretty cool,” he said.
In terms of programming, the center is in its infancy, said Judy Anderson, the youth ministry coordinator.
When its fully up and running, she envisions a place that is teeming with activity.
Besides offering places to play sports and make music, there are also places to play board games, to watch big-screen TVs, to grab a snack, just hang out and chat, or attend Faith Formation classes.
“This is a dream come true,” said Anderson, noting it has been one of St. Timothy’s goals for at least a decade. It’s just an answer to prayer, I tell you.
“We haven’t had a dedicated space for youth only. We’ve had to modify the adult space, over in the parish hall. Now, we have this dedicated space,” Anderson said.
The total cost of the center is about $2.3 million, including furnishings. The cost of the construction is being funded by St. Timothy parishioners via the Forward in Faith Campaign, which is also raising funds for Diocesan projects, including the Mother Teresa of Calcutta school and other projects.
The furnishings for the center have been funded, or donated, by parishioners and through fundraising activities such as the March Madness Auction Dinner and the Family Fall Festival.
The idea was to create a magnet for youths.
“Kids were going other places, and we wanted to figure out, ‘Well, how can we attract them?’ ” Anderson said.
Diane Elsen, a longtime church volunteer, believes the youth center will have a huge impact.
“I just think it’s going to transform youth ministry at St. Timothy’s,” Elsen said.
“It gives them (youths), just the ability to have somewhere to hang — because that is so important to people their age,” Elsen said.
Parents welcome the center, too, Elsen said.
“They know how important it is for kids to have a place to gather,” she said.
The youth center will help with the church’s outreach efforts, too, both Anderson and Elsen said.
“We want to make it available to our community at St. Timothy’s, and we want them to bring their friends,” Anderson said. “Our Pope Francis has made it very clear. We need to be welcoming to everybody.”
Elsen added: “It gives us a chance to evangelize others. Friends can come.”
The youth center’s décor includes posters of saints, so visitors can learn about them and, Anderson hopes, be influenced by their examples.
“We take the time, and we talk about Jesus, in between sports. It’s a great segue to learn about their faith and have fun at the same time in this space,” Anderson said.
The youth center also will provide an indoor gym for students attending the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School.
The school, formerly known as Most Holy Redeemer Catholic School is now located at 302 E. Linebaugh Ave., in Tampa, but is moving this fall to St. Tim’s campus at 17512 Lakeshore Road in Lutz.
Anderson coached at Most Holy Redeemer for 14 years.
She recalls practicing outdoors on 90-degree days, when her players could barely keep hydrated enough to have a decent workout.
There were other issues, too, such as highway noise and court conditions.
“We had to sweep the leaves and the nuts off each time we practiced. We had to haul water out there,” she said.
Anderson is pleased that Mother Teresa of Calcutta teams will have an indoor gym. It’ll also be nice for after-school sports and for indoor gym on rainy days, she said.
But that doesn’t mean the kids will play inside all of the time.
“We want them to still be outside for fresh air,” Anderson said.
Published May 20, 2015