DIXON – The Total Rec in Streator was a home away from home for troubled teenagers.
The recreational center, equipped with six pool tables, Laser Tag, a jukebox, a claw machine and assorted video games, tabbed itself as a safe haven for them.
If the Rec had a garage band playing or a wrestling event scheduled, about 100 to 150 teenagers would show up.
A regular night might see 30 to 40 people, its former director Will Price told me when I worked for The Times newspaper in Streator.
The day it closed, Streator Police Chief Jeff Anderson said: “It took a lot of kids off the street. It provided them with activities to do.”
It kept teenagers like Trevor Tyler out of trouble. “It didn’t matter if I had any money. I could go up there and say ‘Hi’ and sit there and chill out for a bit,” he told me.
Here in Dixon: Steve Wilson, building manager at Loveland Community House and Museum, is leading a similar effort.
While it may not be geared strictly to troubled youth, it sounds like the doors will be more than open for them.
Wilson, with the support of Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller and YMCA Executive Director Andrew McFarlane, wants to establish something for junior high and high school students to do.
Ideas have included a cafe hangout or a skate park.
Although Streator’s Total Rec was successful in many ways, it never raised enough money to stay afloat, despite a capital campaign that raised nearly $20,000 shortly after it closed.
Price, one of its founders, regretted never bringing on a business manager. The organization operated from a board of directors with a committee of teenagers for input.
The youth group paid a low rent to operate out of a deteriorating building but inherited many other costly maintenance issues that ate away at its funds.
To keep with the organization’s mission statement, no teens ever were turned away, even those with empty pockets. Concessions were kept cheap, again, to stick with the mission, and brought in very little.
Fundraisers were held, but not enough. The money ran out, and the kids were back on the street.
To me, the Total Rec’s story should stand as a lesson.
It not only showed the impact a community could make by giving teenagers something to do, but also it showed how difficult it can be to operate a nonprofit organization without a reliable funding source.
There’s good news for Dixon’s effort.
In the early going, Wilson has talked about establishing a trust fund to continually fund the youth center, along with fundraisers. He’s mentioned researching other successful youth centers across the area. The YMCA’s McFarlane has given steady input to help the idea get off the ground financially.
Financial stability has been at the center of conversation.
Better for Dixon to wind up as the role model, rather than the Total Rec as the lesson.