Dreams do come true.
Just ask the dozens of people who clogged up traffic on a sleepy Key Peninsula Highway Saturday trying to make the turn to the Red Barn, a boxy rust-colored building a short walk from Key Center.
Most of them were seeing for the first time the guts of a facility eight years in the making.
“It has taken a long time to get here, but we’ve arrived,” said Glen Ehrhardt, a member of the Red Barn board. “It is a safe place for teens to go and recreate.”
Sweat, a lot of heart and “lots of hard work through many many years,” said Dorene Paterson, of the effort to build the place.
She ought to know. Her husband Douglas was one of the driving forces behind the vision of giving children on the Key Peninsula a much needed place to hangout after school.
According to Douglas Paterson, leaders of the youth group at Waypoint Church asked for help from the community.
“Because the kids have nothing to do,” Paterson said, “they get in trouble. They’ll tell you that. They do.”
Bennett Wainwright, 19, who grew up in a house in Lakebay, just up a dirt road from Herron Road, agrees.
“It is nice to have a meeting place for youth that is local,” Wainwright said. “Driving by it on the highway, seeing the progress, has been really cool.”
The idea was, Paterson said, like Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams”, if you build it they will come.
The building has been here for about a quarter century. It has always been called the Red Barn, “I don’t know why,” Paterson says deadpan.
The Russell family owns the property and leased it to the group nearly a decade ago for $1 dollar a month, getting the group’s quest underway.
The lease has recently been updated to $50 a month, he said, which includes the maintenance of the building. Paterson said the length of the lease is undefined.
“That was their contribution to this,” he said. “‘Here,’ they said, ‘we’re giving you a lot so run with it.’ And we have.”
“We had a dream eight years ago,” he said. After “a lot of hard work, a lot of local money” the Peninsula now has a youth center.
“I am very excited,” he added.
Paterson said grant money is now starting to trickle in.
“A huge part of this is community support,” he said.
Organizations who give away grant money are looking for exactly that.
“They want to know the community wants this to happen,” he said. “The turnout here today, that is community support.”
“We can demonstrate, we can show that people in the community want this to happen,” he added.
The Peninsula School District are aboard, according to Paterson, making the Red Barn a bus stop along the Key Peninsula Highway.
He pointed proudly to street lamps that have just been installed by Peninsula Light Co. and Pierce County to underline the support the project is getting from the community.
The effort to build the youth center is truly a community affair on the Peninsula. Daniel Wilson, owner of AllStar Guitar in Gig Harbor and longtime Peninsula homeowner, is excited the dream is finally coming to life.
“My kids grew up on this Peninsula,” Wilson said. “I remember the tough times we went through. The kids really had nothing to do.”
His personal experience prompted him to reach out.
He and a friend a few years ago started a Blues Kids program at Evergreen Elementary School, which took children who were going home to empty homes and gave them something to do.
“We gave them a harmonica, a t-shirt and a pair of sunglasses and turned them into the Blues Kids,” Wilson said. “But much like many good things it ended.”
A few months ago, he began seeing the streamers advertising the opening of the youth recreational center.
He began telling people about the Red Barn.
Ed Troyer, executive director of Crime Stoppers Tacoma/Pierce County, said he found out about the Red Barn from Wilson, also a member of the Crime Stoppers board.
After Wilson told the board about the youth recreational center on the Key Peninsula, the board decided to help, Troyer said, donating $1,000.
“Any time you can have a location where kids can get together and do something besides getting in trouble, we’re on board,” Troyer said.
Although Crime Stoppers is a program that helps track criminals, he said, “anything we can do to disrupt (children getting in trouble) is also stopping crimes.”
The Red Barn has been a hive of activity the last few weeks. The floor of the game room was finished. A kitchen installed. The offices furnished.
The two new program directors — Laura Condon and Jeremy Schintz who were hired just a week ago — are still finding their way around.
They walked around a gaggle of children on the pool table, their office still being used as a storage closet for guitar cases and boxes of paperwork.
But like the people who dreamed this up, they have lofty goals of their own.
“We have big, big plans,” Condon said, as she showed off a cavernous back room that will one day have a half basketball court and a stage for music and theater.
“So this is our next phase,” she said. “We’re hurrying up and get open.”
This is not an idle goal. Schools on the Peninsula open in three weeks and “kids need a place to go,” she added.
According to Condon, the Red Barn is mostly an after-school program that will be open from 2-7 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Asked why she took the job, “I just wanted to make a difference,” said Condon — who went to school in El Paso, Tex., to be a teacher.
“It has been a whirlwind. A roller coaster ride,” she said.
Her first impression of the place was amazement.
“I could not believe it when I walked through those doors,” Condon said. “It is not just slapped together.”
Other non-profits on the Peninsula see an opportunity to work with the Red Barn.
“We’ll probably partner on some things,” said Collen Speer, executive director of Communities In Schools. “Because we are an academic dropout prevention program.”
Speer’s program has eight teachers who help tutor children at their schools one day a week. The program’s 150 volunteers are trained to help kids with their homework.
While residents are glad to see another positive addition to their community.
Longtime Vaughn resident Cindy Pappas said she decided to volunteer at the Red Barn “because I saw the need for kids to go and get positive influence.”
Asked how many children will come, Pappas said “we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“But I feel really confident,” she said. “I can really see it do well.”
Ehrhardt’s estimate: “I hope too many.”