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Family Life Center offers family fun in Martins Ferry

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Don Chamberlain, director of the First Christian Church Family Life Center in Martins Ferry, shows off the center’s kitchen. The center offers fun and fellowship for the community.

MARTINS FERRY — The First Christian Church Family Life Center is a site for community activities during the COVID-19 pandemic with many more planned in the future.

The Rev. Rod Kassler saw a need for family fun in the area after witnessing economic hardship among residents. He envisioned forms of outreach.

“It was important we reach not just the youth, but their families,” he said.

Organizers began with a youth basketball league in the Martins Ferry City School District. After nine years, they considered expanding.

“We just needed to build our own place, because we have such interest from children and their families in our sports program. We wanted to build our own sports facility and expand on it,” Kassler said.

Five years ago a campaign was launched to raise funds to build the facility. It was completed and ready to occupy in October.

“We have been expanding the program. We have ministered to thousands of kids and their families,” Kassler said.

Kassler emphasized the importance of fellowship in bringing people to God.

“It has given us the opportunity to do what we had envisioned,” he said. “I think what young people need in this area are good relationships, and perhaps even mentors in their lives. The vision was if we could get them in here in a wholesome environment, a good environment … we felt like they could be influenced in a positive way.

“We’ve had great response from the community. It just continues to grow, and we hope that it grows a lot more as time goes on,” Kassler said. “We’ve had nightly events here. There’s hardly a night this place isn’t lit up.”

Don Chamberlain, facilities director, said the gym has been popular among youth while adult visitors enjoy senior citizen events and movie nights on Fridays. The center has been rented out for banquets and other events.

“When The Highlands (Sports Complex) was shut down in West Virginia, we were inundated with everybody coming over and renting our gym. Our gym was booked ’til 10 p.m., 9:30 p.m. every night, seven nights a week,” Chamberlain said. “We rent it out for basketball practices. We rent it out to volleyball leagues.”

More events are being scheduled for summer.

“Now that things are opening up, we’re going to try to get more of the community involved in here,” Chamberlain said.

Youth Minister Justin Hill said precautions and sanitation measures have been stringent during the pandemic.

“It was a lot of extra work — so much extra cleaning, in between each game. After every basketball league we had to spray down for disinfectant. We had to change our patterns of how people came in and out of the facility,” he said, adding the leagues were broken into different age groups to keep numbers of attendees down. “We had no issues at all.”

Hill noted the importance of providing a site for families to gather and said anyone in the community is welcome to visit.

“This isn’t just for our church. This is for everybody in this town that I’ve grown to love in the last 30 years,” Kassler agreed. “We want this gym used as much as possible.”

A car show will be held May 22 in the church and center’s three parking lots.

“We want families, and if you’re by yourself and you’re 90 years old,” Kassler said.

The center is located at 800 Zane Highway in Martins Ferry. For more information, call 740-633-3615.

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