Libby Youth Center; from vision to reality serving community
By Moira Blazi
Back in Early 2016, Hank Maxim first noticed the old Masonic Lodge building for sale. He says the thought of making it into a youth center was just a vague idea he had at the time, one which he hadn’t shared with anyone.
The price was 70 thousand. A price, he said, that was just a little more than he could pay. “I thought I could manage about 60,” Maxim told the Montanian in an interview last week.
When Maxim spoke with Irene Loveless at her reality office, he was prepared to negotiate the price but Loveless said, ‘since you are making it into a youth center, we will sell it you for 60 thousand.’
“I never told them that,” Maxim said.
Being a religious man, Maxim took this as a sign and bought the place.
Completely empty, except for “a few cone-like masonic hats which were still up on the wall,” Maxim and early supporter Laura Tindall set to fill it with anything kids would like, anything, that is, that was positive, productive, and uplifting, as well as fun.
When the youth center opened in April of 2016, the large building, which includes a fully equipped commercial kitchen, was packed with arcade games, pinball machines, pool and ping-pong tables, exercise equipment, art supplies, pianos and organs, a library, and even a vintage jukebox.
Although the community was more than generous at its inception, the Libby Youth Center’s furnishings and equipment cost Maxim over 40 thousand dollars and most of his time and energy as well. “I spent a lot of money on the arcade games, and the pool tables cost $5,000 each. There was a broken compressor in the kitchen to fix, and I had to cut out a wall,” Maxim said.
Now, two and a half years later, there are 398 kids registered. The center is incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization, and it boasts a board of eight directors; dedicated and compassionate community members, folks who care about the kids of Libby.
Board member, Rose Arnold, put it this way; “Hank’s goal was to provide kids an alternative to drugs and alcohol fueled activities, our goal now is to give kids a reason to come here.” Toward that goal, the board and volunteer staff, most of which are the same dedicated group of folks, are busy planning activities and events. “I planned the aquarium wall,” said Arnold. “The kids get recognized for creating a fish and adding it to the mural.” They are also celebrating national anti-boredom month in July, they are on Facebook, and they are promoting the county library’s summer reading program.
With a core group of about 20 kids, the number of kids using the center on any given afternoon can vary greatly. “Sometimes we get five or six, sometimes we have 30,” Maxim told The Montanian. Some come in to play pool or ping-pong, some to use the pinball machines which are very popular but require a lot of maintenance. “One kid came in a lot just to practice the piano, and the snacks are very popular,” Arnold said.
Kids are encouraged to make the space their own by painting an acoustic ceiling panel, the array of which makes the center feel festive and welcoming.
Arnold, and other board members are seriously focusing on creating new activities and events. “If there is an active event happening, kids are more likely to come down,” she said. “Hopefully we will get the volleyball court done soon and this will be a destination for outdoor events as well, but to do that we really do need more volunteers.”
There is a lot to be done. Maxim tries to fix all the various fun machines, but some are quite challenging, like the vintage jukebox, the air hockey table, and the old-style pinball machines. He would welcome a handyman who can help figure it out, he said. “There’s one kid who comes in here who just goes around tightening all the screws on everything,” he said with a grin. Any help at all is appreciated at the Libby Youth Center, anyone who has skills in any kind of craft or trade.
The back storage room is packed with a ceramic Kiln, two potter’s wheels, and lots of ceramic molds, all waiting for someone to step forward and share their time and knowledge with the kids at the center.
Starting this crazily ambitious project with little more than a fervent desire to help the youth of Libby has changed Maxim’s life, he even met his wife Sherri through the center.” Laura Tindall and some other folks told me that there was this guy who just bought this building and was turning it into a youth center,”, Sherri Maxim recalled. “They said he needs volunteers, and I stepped up.” The couple fell in love and got married, now Sherri works side by side with Hank to keep the vision of this place alive. Although completely volunteer staffed, some funds are needed to keep the lights on and provide daily snacks, so they have held a few successful rummage sales and they are working on grants.
In August, the center is planning a family movie night and will be raffle ling off a gift basket. Youth center volunteers will be selling tickets at Rosauers on July 14 from 12 until 2 p.m.
“We need quality volunteers,” said director Arnold. “We are planning things like pool tournaments and parade floats, and the kids need people to help make things happen. We have the resources, now we need the volunteers.”
For more information about the Libby Youth Center stop by at 1218 Utah Avenue, visit their Facebook page or their website at libbyyouthcenter.org. You can also give them a call at 293-6686.
The youth center is open from 1 until 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays this summer and admission is always free.
Hank and Sherri Maxim pose in front of the Libby Youth Center for a photo