Lighthouse Youth Center in Oxford celebrates its 30th anniversary
● By Steven Hoffman
With the school year in full swing, the end of January is always a busy time for the Lighthouse Youth Center. On any given weekday, the center hums with activity as children play basketball, enjoy a snack, or work on homework or take part in one of the many other activities that are available. But on Wednesday, Jan. 31, there was even more excitement than normal as the Lighthouse Youth Center celebrated its 30th anniversary of serving the Oxford community.
Buzz Tyson, the Lighthouse's executive director, took in all of the excitement and smiled.
There were a number of special games and activities related to the number 30 for the children to enjoy. One board featured pictures from the Lighthouse's 30 years, and children were invited to guess the year that each picture was taken. There was a special meal for the children. State Rep. John Lawrence stopped by to read a proclamation that was approved by the State House honoring the Lighthouse and declaring Jan. 31 to be Lighthouse Youth Center Day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Tyson explained that the center now regularly serves 333 children with its after-school and summer programming that includes everything from homework assistance and educational programming to recreational activities and college preparation assistance. Each day, the Lighthouse also provides a free afternoon snack and a free nutritious meal to youngsters in Oxford. The meals and programming are essential to the well-being of the low-income, at-risk youth that the Lighthouse serves. The Lighthouse is a para-church organization that strives to have a positive Christian impact on each person's life.
Tyson, who is in his 23rd year as executive director, leads a small staff that includes Amy Perkins, the program and volunteer coordinator; Brent Hazelwood, Jeanie Hall, and Angel Torres, who are part-time program assistants; and Tonya Stoltzfus, who is a part-time administrative assistant.
The staff members are able to help make a difference in the lives of youngsters in a variety of ways.
Josue Gonzalez, a tenth-grader, said that the Lighthouse is a safe place to enjoy himself after school.
“I like hanging out with friends and learning about Jesus,” he said. “I come here every day.”
Cristal Zaragoza has been coming to the Lighthouse for about the last three years. She credited Amy Perkins with helping her to return to school and to find a job after the birth of a child. Perkins also helped Zaragoza find a program for young moms. Now, Zaragoza is giving back by helping others—she works with younger students who need help with homework, and she also assists Perkins with various activities.
Jose Salinas has been coming to the Lighthouse for about four or five years. His favorite activities include soccer and basketball. “It helps you. I do homework, I eat here sometimes. I get a lot of help from Buzz, Amy, and the volunteers.”
Tyson said that the Lighthouse is always in need of more volunteers, especially adults who could help children with their homework.
Cathy Witter is one such volunteer. She helps out every Wednesday with the games and homework that the students are working on.
“I really see a need for something like this in the community,” Witter said. “The kids have a need for a safe place to come.”
The Lighthouse staff is continually evaluating and updating its programs and offerings to meet the needs of young people in the area. The Lighthouse focuses a lot more on educational initiatives. They have a learning hour throughout the week designed to help students complete their homework. They have an incentive program that encourages youngsters to do well in school. Another important educational initiative, Tyson said, is providing tablets for students to use instead of laptops because the schools in Oxford are utilizing tablets, and it helps the children to do their schoolwork.
The Lighthouse is also looking to expand, from three to twelve, the number of scholarships that it can offer to students as they graduate from high school and look to find a job or follow a career path.
Tyson said that the Lighthouse has always been blessed by supporters who have been willing to support their efforts.
“The community has always been a blessing to us,” Tyson said.
Tyson said that the time feels like it has gone by very quickly. It has been nearly three years since the Lighthouse moved into its new home on Commerce Street. Tyson said that one of the most rewarding parts of the job for him is seeing the youngsters grow up to be productive adults and knowing that the Lighthouse played a part in helping them along the way.
“It means a lot when I go around the community and see our alumni, and see that they are working locally and making a difference,” Tyson said. “Our time and energy has produced a lot of good fruit in the community.”