Teenagers across Collinsville now have a new place to call their own.
They can visit Refuge, a nonprofit, after-school program that provides a safe place for local youth to unwind, meet with friends and focus on their schoolwork.
The faith-based project debuted on July 20 as part of the Refuge Community Center, located at 1007 W. Main St., which opened its doors earlier this year.
Executive director Samantha Stitt and her husband Kristian recently took over the outreach and decided to turn the public facility into a shelter to enable and educate a younger generation.
“We’ve been working with youth and teens for a while now, and a trend that we see in kids, they don’t have as many hobbies as they did 20 years ago,” said Samantha, who also works as a teacher. “So we were like, ‘We need to create somewhere after school for free where they can go and hang out.’”
Every weekday, teens across town can swing by and play video games or engage in various activities like Ping-Pong, foosball and air hockey, all while enjoying complementary snacks, coffee and other beverages.
What’s more, they can show up to study, complete homework assignments and receive free tutoring in math and English — a trifecta of services, Stitt said, that can go a long way in helping those who need it the most.
“I just want to see kids growing and having a good time,” she said. “They need somebody to kind of come in and tell them that they are important and that they do have value, and (say), ‘Let’s try to figure out your purpose and your goals for life.’”
Around 10 individuals volunteer at Refuge on a regular basis, dedicating their time to mentoring and coaching the teens, both in group settings and one-on-one sessions.
Stitt has also teamed up with around five local churches, who have all donated supplies, building materials, furniture and more to help her kick off the program.
“There’s been so many people that have been huge major roles,” she said. “This is the community coming together, the churches coming together, to do this. It’s just going to continue to grow with the support of the churches.”
Stitt’s ultimate goal in opening Refuge was to “build that gap in between the school and the church,” she said, offering fellowship and education as tools to foster her and her husband’s ministry.
“I want to see kids find a place where they feel wanted and can feel plugged in and to build these relationships,” Stitt said, “eventually (to) see lives changed because they see something more than just themselves; they really start to realize that there is a God that loves them.”
Refuge’s hours of operation are 1-3 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, in the summer, and 3:30-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, during the school year.