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Caring for kids

Few things are more important than ensuring that our children are leading safe and healthy lives. That is a big job, though, and sometimes it requires help from many sources.

During the school year, parents can almost always count on local public and private schools to help make sure that children are in a safe, comfortable environment with enough food to eat every day that classes are in session. Most area schools serve breakfast and lunch, and some offer after-school options complete with snacks for families who may face challenges with child care.

But where can parents turn for help with such issues during the summer months?

Many parents must work year-round, and plenty of them find it difficult to secure affordable child care when they cannot be at home.

In Martins Ferry, an answer has emerged this summer.

A new youth center has opened its doors in a building adjacent to Grace Presbyterian Church on Hanover Street. A project of the church, the center hosted only a small turnout at first, but now about 70 children are visiting the center daily.

The new facility provides a safe place where young people can hang out, play games together, enjoy snacks and even eat dinner each day. The large number of children in the local school district who qualify for free or reduced-cost meals prompted church members to open the center in an effort to guarantee those kids would receive the nourishment they need, even when school is out for the summer.

Local residents, church members and businesses have stepped up, supporting the center with donations. Those gifts make it possible to provide meals each day. And the word is spreading, with children from neighboring communities such as Shadyside, Bellaire and Warwood now visiting the center.

Three adult volunteers provide supervision while the center is open, so children can attend with or without a parent present.

“We have older kids who play with younger kids. We have crafts for kids and games they can play. Some have built puzzles and they have never done that before. … We have board games and cards. It’s pretty cool,” Grace pastor the Rev. William Webster said.

Indeed, it is pretty cool.

And to make it even cooler, church member John Davies has purchased the former Daily Bread Center with plans to bring it up to code and then open a “free clothing store,” where children will be able to get school clothes before classes begin. It, combined with the youth center, eventually will be known as Grace Church Community Center.

We commend Webster, Davies and all the volunteers for making these opportunities available for local children. Keep up the good work!

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