A public interest meeting spearheaded by Alissa Hendricks, the drug treatment court coordinator for the 40th Missouri Judicial Circuit and Tammy Ebbinghaus, Indian Springs Brewing Company, was held Monday evening to gauge public interest and potential participation in creating a community youth center in Neosho.

A public interest meeting spearheaded by Alissa Hendricks, the drug treatment court coordinator for the 40th Missouri Judicial Circuit and Tammy Ebbinghaus, Indian Springs Brewing Company, was held Monday evening to gauge public interest and potential participation in creating a community youth center in Neosho.
"This is a public interest meeting, plain and simple," Hendricks told the crowd of around three dozen people.  "People ask where can my kids go in Neosho and be safe and I don't have any good answers for that."
Hendricks stated that about two years ago, she thought there might be some interest in a youth community center but the idea fizzled. Then a year ago, Ebbinghaus alerted her to the fact that there are a lot of kids spending time downtown with no place to go and often without parental supervision.
"There are so many kids on the square, just walking without parents around and some are very young," Ebbinghaus said.
"That revived the (idea) that we need to do something for kids in our community," Hendricks said. "We have no perceived notions - we just know there is a need."
The purpose of the meeting was to determine if enough interest exists to launch such a project.
Members of the public, who attended the meeting, inquired as to why the longtime Neosho Recreation Center closed about a decade ago. Apparently, the city manager at the time made the decision to close the center, which was open to youth, for financial reasons.
One audience member also stated the rec center was full of mold at the time and needed upkeep that the city was unable to afford.  The Neosho School District Headquarters is now housed in the former Rec Center building at 418 Fairground Road in Neosho, moving there after renovations were made.
"I want this to be a community effort, 100%," Hendricks said. She would like to see the community bond together to make a safe place for kids to be. "It's really important that they have a place (to go) or they just get in trouble."
Several of those in attendance stepped up with ideas and suggestions. Officer Philip Whiteman, one of the Neosho Police Department's school resource officers, along with Tandy Bressler, came forward to talk about a Neosho Youth Volunteer Program currently in the works. "It could possibly be incorporated into a rec center," Bressler said.
"The more they (kids) are involved, the more successful they can be," Whiteman said. "Getting people to care about their community is one step to get people to have some pride."
Rhonda Gorham, executive director of the Joplin Boys and Girls Club also offered some ideas and talked about the program in Joplin and Webb City.  "Rec Centers have gone by the wayside for a reason," Gorham told those at the meeting. "You have 18 year olds with kindergartners. One of my concerns is that a rec center will become an unsafe place."
At the Boys and Girls Club, Gorham says kids are separated by age group so that doesn't happen.
Ben Coffey, new executive director at the Neosho Y, also offered his insights. "I think it would be awesome if you could combine some of these initiatives," he said.
Bill Slade, a Neosho Junior High School science instructor, added that the Neosho summer school session ends this week. He has students who are sad about that. "There's nowhere for kids to go once summer school ends," Slade stated.
Those who attended the meeting were asked to fill out a short questionnaire seeking their thoughts, input, ideas, and the possibility of volunteering for a youth based community center.
A few ideas about potential locations were discussed along with the possibilities of including local churches or possibly working with the City of Neosho Parks and Recreation Department.
A few teens also attended. Mikey Barnes, 16, who will be a senior when school starts, said it's true there's not a lot of things for kids to do. Barnes, however, said he and his friend, Patrick, participate in the weekly Teen Time program at the Neosho Newton County Library on Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m.
"My friends and I have gone to Teen Time since junior high," Barnes said. "Before that, we used to play chess on Friday afternoons with adult mentors."
Barnes and some of his friends often walk from Neosho High School to the library after school dismisses on Fridays. He also often spends time at the library because there aren't any other activities for kids. "But the library isn't always open," he said.
Once the questionnaires are read and ideas considered, plans are for future meetings if enough interest exists. Safety of the youth in the community is important and Hendricks hopes that local residents will join forces to make a safe place where kids can spend time.
"It's really what we can do as a community coming together and that's going to take a lot of time, effort, money and work," Hendricks said.