Buzz Tyson honored for 25 years as the executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Center
● By Steven Hoffman
Buzz Tyson has often spoken about how the community has blessed the Lighthouse Youth Center with tremendous support in its effort to provide positive programs and activities for youngsters in Oxford. The Lighthouse Youth Center itself has often been described as a blessing to the young people in the Oxford community. But last Thursday, as Tyson reached the 25th anniversary as the executive director of the Lighthouse, it was he who was being called a blessing.
“We’re so thankful that Buzz is part of our team,” said Barry Hostetter, a longtime member of the Lighthouse’s board of directors. “It’s amazing how many kids he has spiritually helped. We’re so blessed to have a person like Buzz Tyson as an executive director.”
Kathy Book, also a Lighthouse board member, said that Tyson “has poured his heart and soul into the youth of our community, and is a tremendous role model. Buzz has excelled in building relationships in the Oxford community and beyond.”
State Rep. John Lawrence stopped by on Jan. 30—25 years to the day that the executive director started his work at the Lighthouse—to present Tyson with a proclamation. “Buzz is a remarkable leader,” Lawrence said, explaining that it takes a special person to be able to meet with a group of community leaders about funding for the Lighthouse in the morning, and then spend time feeding 150 youngsters a meal in the afternoon. Lawrence added that the Lighthouse has really made an impact on a lot of people’s lives through the years.
The Lighthouse is a para-church organization that is supported by churches of all denominations. Its mission is to provide free educational programming, such as homework assistance and help with college preparations, as well as recreational activities, in a safe environment for youngsters who are between the ages of 9 and 18. The Lighthouse also provides snacks and meals to the children. All this is done in a positive, Christian environment that is aimed at bringing encouragement to young people.
Tyson was just 25 years old when he was hired as the executive director in 1995. At that time, the Lighthouse was situated in a small building on South Third Street in Oxford, and the youth center’s offerings were very limited when compared to the programs and activities that are available today.
Hostetter took part in the interview process that resulted in Tyson being hired as the organization’s executive director. Tyson held a bachelor’s degree in recreation management from Lock Haven University, and he had competed in track and field at the collegiate level. Tyson already had experience working at a youth center, as well as at the Tel Hai Camp, where he helped expand programs. Several Lighthouse board members knew Tyson, at least indirectly. Hostetter, for instance, at one time purchased cows from Tyson’s uncle.
Like any 25-year-old taking a new job, Tyson felt some uncertainties with the new job, but he liked the mission of the Lighthouse and wanted to give it a try.
Tyson recalled that when he first started at the Lighthouse, he would sometimes run races with youngsters from one traffic light to the next as a way of bonding with them.
“We would race to see if they could win a soft pretzel or a snack,” Tyson explained. “I would always race them in hiking boots, and I don’t think I ever lost. It was a way to have a connection and to build relationships with the kids.”
It didn’t take Tyson long to fall in love with the Lighthouse and the community.
It also didn’t take long for the word to spread that the Lighthouse was a good place for children in the Oxford schools to spend some time after school. Tyson worked hard to make connections and establish partnerships in the community.
Soon, Lighthouse officials started working on purchasing the building that they had been renting. That purchase took place in 1997. Next came an extensive renovation project that allowed the Lighthouse to accommodate even more activities for youngsters.
While the core mission of the Lighthouse remains largely unchanged, the youth center has constantly evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. When it became apparent that many children in the community were lacking sufficient food throughout the day, the Lighthouse expanded the meals that it could offer.
Tyson guided the Lighthouse as the organization embarked on what officials called “Project Blessing,” the construction of a brand new home on a four-acre parcel on Commerce Street that was purchased in 2013. Over the course of the next five years, the Lighthouse undertook a campaign to raise funds for the $3.2 million project. Tyson noted that the very first—and rudimentary—design of the new facility, which was drawn on a napkin, very closely resembles the finished product that visitors see today. The construction process was completed with just three change orders.
Last year, 351 young people attended programming at the Lighthouse. Sixty-two children attended the daily Lighthouse Learning Hour where homework help is offered. The Lighthouse also served 10,317 meals last year.
The Lighthouse has rewards programs to encourage youngsters to do well in school. Tyson and the staff, which is largely volunteer, also assists students who are looking to go to college by arranging campus visits or by providing help filling out applications.
Lighthouse officials love seeing when youngsters who have taken part in the program grow up and get into college or start their work careers as adults. The Lighthouse even offers some scholarships for students who go on to post-secondary education.
Tyson has now been the executive director so long that some of the kids who came to the Lighthouse in his first years at the center now have children of their own who come to the Lighthouse. Officials love to see that, too, because it’s another illustration of the role that the youth center has played in the community.
Tyson reflected on his 25 years at the Lighthouse, saying that patience and perseverance are essential to his duties working with youngsters. He explained that it’s just not possible to make a difference in a kid’s life in an instant. It takes patience and perseverance and time to really make a difference.
“It’s all about us blessing the community,” Tyson said. “It’s been a good 25 years.”
He expressed his gratitude to the countless volunteers and some very good board members who have helped immensely through the years. There are way too many dedicated volunteers and staff members who have helped the Lighthouse with its mission through the years for Tyson to mention just a few. He did say that, “The Oxford community and the surrounding areas have been very good to the Lighthouse.”
He noted that the new home was completely paid for within a year of the completion of the project, a very rare feat for a non-profit organization—and a stunning illustration of the level of support that the Lighthouse enjoys in the community.
Several members of the Lighthouse’s board of directors credited Tyson with helping the youth center grow. When he started out, the Lighthouse had an annual budget of $45,000. Now, the annual budget is $390,000.
One illustration of how dedicated Tyson is to the Lighthouse and the kids who utilize the programs is Buzz’s BBQ Chicken and Catering. Initially, Tyson made the chicken barbecues as fundraising opportunities for the Lighthouse. Now, he gives some of the kids the chance to have their first work experience by helping him with the barbecue business. As the core of the business is Tyson’s willingness to help others. A few years ago, he held a barbecue fundraiser to help an Amish family that he knew. The family had a daughter stricken with cancer. Tyson’s barbecue fundraiser allowed for a significant donation to be made for research. In turn, the Amish community boosted its support for the Lighthouse’s annual auction by making significantly more hand-crafted furniture. The good deeds go round and round.
Book pointed out during the small celebration to mark the milestone that Tyson has now spent half his life leading the non-profit.
Ed Herr, the president of Herr Foods and a Lighthouse board member, said that he has seen Tyson’s leadership grow during the last 25 years.
“I have had the joy of working with Buzz as a board member for the last 25 years,” Herr said. “I have watched him grow into one of the best leaders I know. He is always trying his best to do the right thing. Buzz is great at building relationships and finding favor with people, and he has encouraged all of us to give to help the kids at The Lighthouse. Buzz’s role model is Jesus, and he knows that when he engages us to help transform the lives of these Lighthouse kids, our lives are also transformed.”
Hostetter, a manager for Hostetter’s Grain, Inc., said that Tyson is a like a brother to him, and has helped him with his own spiritual life as much as anyone else in his life.
Book added, “On behalf of the Board of Directors we are thrilled to celebrate Buzz Tyson’s 25 years of service to The Lord here at the Lighthouse. I think everyone knows that Buzz’s favorite bible verse is from 1 John 4:19, which says, ‘We love because He first loved us.’ Buzz has loved the youth of this community for 25 years, and we could not be more honored as a board to serve alongside him and wish him continued blessings for the next 25 years.”