Kennewick church opens doors to Vista Youth Center

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldApril 17, 2013 

A Kennewick church is opening its doors to the drop-in center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth and their allies that announced last week it was suspending services because of financial difficulties.

Rev. Jody Lediard of St. Paul's Episcopal Church said her congregation looks forward to welcoming Vista Youth Center.

"We've been talking about the kids coming," she told the Herald. "We are all excited they're coming to be with us."

The drop-in center, which reached its six-year anniversary about a month ago, will hold its regular Friday night dinners -- in which community groups bring meals and spend time with the youth -- at the West 10th Avenue church.

A 20-somethings group that gathered at Vista may also meet at the church.

"At this point, we're going to continue those programs and see where we go from there," said Heather Hill, a member of Vista's board.

The board last week decided to halt the center's operations, citing finances. "It became obvious we couldn't meet our obligations, therefore we needed to suspend operations," Hill said at the time.

She didn't go into specifics but noted the challenges nonprofits can face in tough economic times. The center has received some grants through the years but relies primarily on donations.

The center's director was laid off and youths were notified. Before operations were suspended, Vista was offering drop-in hours on two other days of the week in addition to the Friday dinners, according to its website, www.vistayouthcenter.org.

The center primarily serves youths 14 to 21.

St. Paul's has participated in Vista's Friday dinners for a couple of years, said Lediard, who's a member of the youth center's board. The offer of help made sense. "We have a basement with room for them to have their space" while the center gets back on its feet, Lediard said.

The church won't charge rent.

St. Paul's has a long history in the Tri-Cities and today draws about 90 people on Sundays.

"There are a lot of grandparents in the crowd. I think caring for children means a lot to them. They care deeply for all kinds of kids," Lediard said.

Hill said the youth center is grateful for St. Paul's assistance, saying "we feel very, very fortunate that this church has come forward and said, 'We have a place and we love you.'"

Vista opened in 2007 on West Bruneau Place in Kennewick. Sadie Bauer, 22, of Kennewick, has been part of it from the start. "It's been my home," she said, noting that she's made many friends there.

Brittany Matias, 19, of Kennewick, described it as "a place to be yourself. It's a place where I kind of found myself. I went and discovered everything I know about myself now and met a bunch of people who have become my family."

Matias said she worries some new youths might feel wary coming to a church for fear of being judged. "I know it wouldn't be like that (at St. Paul's), but there could be that fear," she said.

That's a possibility that crossed Lediard's mind. She said she's hopeful word of mouth will ease any concerns from youth. "We're going to be as welcoming as possible," she said.

"We want them to know we don't do that."

Bauer said she hopes to see all Vista's offerings reinstated at some point. "There are a lot of kids out there who definitely need a place like Vista, a safe place. It's not like Vista's job is done," the 22-year-old said. "We have a lot more to do."

Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 726, Pasco, WA 99301. Checks should be made out to Vista Youth Center.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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