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A Well-Loved Secret in Terre Haute

In the summer of 1982, a group of concerned citizens met in attempts to create a program that would help to alleviate the growing problem of teen runaways and unsupervised youth. Those conversations created a youth center that would serve as a place for local children and teens to feel safe and secure while learning skills that would help them grow into positive and contributing members of our community.

John E. Etling, original executive director of Catholic Charities Terre Haute, offered the use of Ryves Hall located at 1356 Locust Street. It was decided that the new youth center would be named, Ryves Hall Youth Center. That name remained until John retired and, in honor of his many years of service to the community, the name was changed to Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall.

Since opening its doors in 1982, the Youth Center has seen its share of changes, one thing that has remained the same are its core beliefs for its children. The first of which is to serve any child in need, regardless of race, sex, religion or financial status. There is no financial cost for any of the programming at Ryves. Second, we treat all children as members of our “Ryves family” and they are given love and respect. Finally, we believe that all children will have a voice in helping the Youth Center grow and thrive. These core beliefs are lived daily in our mission to serve as a safe-haven that fosters a positive sense of self-worth through programs that promote physical, educational, and social development for the youth of our communities.

As we grew the program, it became clear that the children attending Ryves shared some commonalities. Most come from single-parent homes, are or have been homeless or are ‘at-risk’ due to circumstances beyond their control. Their families do not have the financial ability to support after-school sports or activities, many do not have homework assistance available at home and even more only receive nutritious meals when school is in session.

Many individuals are not aware that 24.8% of Vigo County youth live in poverty – the highest percentage in the entire state. Upwards of 37% of local youth are not proficient in reading at a fourth-grade level, setting them up for difficulties in testing and furthering their education. Our county also ranks as one of the highest in the state for children living with food insecurity – a number that has only risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Locally, 15,410 children (28% of youth) live a life impacted by food insecurity (lack of access to enough nutritious food to live an active and healthy lifestyle) which is linked to obesity, decreased academic scores, developmental delays and impairments and even behavioral and social struggles.

Every year, the Youth Center sees more than 1,000 of these children walk through its doors and it is our privilege to make them feel that they have found a place where they are included, welcome and wanted. Activities and programs at Ryves have changed over the years but have always provided the children with opportunity to grow into healthy, productive adults. Some visit after school to receive homework help or tutoring – in 2020, those who participated in these sessions improved their grades by 93%. Others come because they are hungry and eat a quick snack before getting involved in our other activities. Almost all will stay to eat a filling, nutritious supper with their friends. The stability and routine that Ryves provides to the children is comforting and supporting to them and something that we take pride in.

James D. Edwards serves as the Director of Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall.


Feb 5th Blog Post
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