By Amanda Ensinger
Children at risk or in need of a safe place to go can now take refuge in Prairie Township. At a recent meeting, the board of trustees agreed to designate the Prairie Township Community Center, Prairie Township Fire Department and the township’s administration building as a safe place for youth to go.
“For youth that are in trouble at home or need a safe place to stay, some of our facilities will serve as a place for them to go until we can get them to the Huckleberry House,” said James Gant, director of the community center.
The Huckleberry House, which started in 1970, is a shelter for runaway teens and serves young people and families in crisis. From a 24-hour shelter for teens to an 18-month transitional living program for young adults who have experienced homelessness to preparing people to live independently in permanent housing, the program has been a staple of the central Ohio community for decades.
The Huckleberry House works with the Safe Place Program. The Safe Place Program helps young people who feel they have nowhere to turn. The program operates in 37 states and the District of Columbia and nearly 20,000 businesses and organization are designed as a Safe Place for at risk youth to go.
According to the Safe Place Program, over one million youths run away from home each year due to abuse, neglect or family conflicts. The program aims to provide an option for those who feel they need to leave an unhealthy living situation and have nowhere else to go.
“This is an opportunity to help youth in Prairie Township in need or crisis,” said Robert Peters, administrator for Prairie Township. “We are happy that we can offer them a safe place to go in their time of need.”
According to Peters, all public libraries in Columbus are also designated as safe places, however no other business or locations on the westside are designated as safe places. All safe places in the township will display a yellow and black safe place sign, which signifies immediate help and safety.
“As part of our training for this program, we also will train staff to understand what to do when a young person in need comes in and how to connect them with the resources they need,” Peters said. “This will cost the taxpayers no money and is a way to continue to enhance our community and provide our residents with valuable resources.”
Township leaders believe this is a great way to improve the lives of all residents.
“For us, it is all about building our community and looking out for everyone,” said Tristian Sutton-Jennings, front desk coordinator for the Prairie Township Community Center. “The community center is not just a place to work out, but a gathering place for people to come from all walks of life and feel safe.”
According to community leaders, they want the community center to be a pillar of the community and serve the people.
“This is an important way for Prairie Township to serve those who are most vulnerable and in the greatest need of critical assistance,” Gant said. “As a community center, we felt this was another way we can serve our community.”