Julie Burk, executive director of Portal 2:20 Teen Center, stands by the area of the teen center that will house video games. Burk hopes the center will open in the fall. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
Julie Burk, executive director of Portal 2:20 Teen Center, stands by the area of the teen center that will house video games. Burk hopes the center will open in the fall. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
BY ERIN COX

DHI Media News Editor

ecox@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT — Van Wert teens will soon have a portal to get away from everyone else not their age.

Portal 2:20 Teen Center is set to be a location for teens to hang out and socialize to finally answer the often heard complaint that there is nothing to do in town.

“What really got it started was to fill a need,” Julie Burk, the executive director of Portal 2:20 Teen Center, said. “There’s a lot of kids that find places to hang out or they hang out at their friends houses, which is good, but sometimes that can get them into a little bit of trouble, too.

“We’re just hoping to give them a space to come, hang out, relax. Don’t worry about having to bring little brother or little sister to tag along because this is strictly for middle school and high school students,” she continued.

Burk, who lived in Toledo as a teen and is now a Van Wert resident, wants the teens to be able to appreciate their small town.

“I always said there was nothing to do in Toledo growing up as a teen, too,” she said. “I want to help them appreciate what they have here.”

The name, Portal 2:20, comes from Burk’s own interests that she has found she can relate to with teens.

“I was trying to look for something kind of sci-fi because I’m pretty nerdy,” Burk said. “Anyone that knows me real well knows I’m very nerdy, but the kids that I relate with are nerdy. I was trying to think of something that said nerdy, but not too over the top.”

She chose portal because it sounded like something science-fiction and it is defined as “a way in.”

“I wanted something to show them a way in and a way to something more, a way to learning about who Jesus Christ is, too, but in a more subtle, less in your face sort of way because we’re not here to preach at kids or anything like that,” she explained. “If kids don’t believe in God or don’t believe in Jesus that’s fine, but that’s just who I am and that’s just how the organization is run, but we’re not being forceful on anyone.”

The 2:20 part refers to Galatians 2:20.

“It talks about being crucified with Christ,” Burk explained. “It’s more or less dying to self and working towards a greater purpose.”

A few years ago, Burk helped with a different youth center that had just a small space for kids to hang out and she was never really able to do all that she wanted with it.

Then three years ago, she began talking to other people in the community and developed a concept for the teen center. A group formed a steering committee and a number of individuals expressed interest in being involved so a board of directors was formed with five members in addition to Burk. The board members are Rose Morris, Sue Steinen, John Ryder, Mike Mowery and Travis Swander.

They considered partnering with other organizations, but none of those avenues seemed to be the right fit, so they decided to file for a non-profit organization status with the State of Ohio.

In the summer of 2015, Ryder had some tenants moving out of a building he owned and suggested Burk come take a look.

“I walked in and thought, ‘This is perfect’,” she said. The building located at 108B Zimmerman Avenue had a check-in desk, offices and a big open space for teens to come and hang out.

Since moving into the building, Burk recruited 10 Vantage Career Center students who are in the building and grounds department who have helped with construction.

“It’s awesome because kids, teenagers themselves, are doing the work,” she said.

The building now has a stage for teens to use for performances if they want to showcase their talents or for future karaoke nights. There is also a concession stand for snacks and an area designated for video games that will feature old school systems and some arcade games. It will also have a movie projector, beanbag chairs and lounge seating to relax.

They plan on only allowing seventh grade students and above to make sure it is a place the teens like to come to. Burk, who has been involved in youth ministry for nine years, has seen high schoolers not want to participate in activities or go to events when the junior high students are the majority.

“We’ll probably split it up so that at times it will be just junior high and just high school that way they don’t always have to mix,” she said.

Burk has also done research on other youth centers to see what has worked and what has not. She wants to have one adult per seven teens to make sure there is enough supervision because she wants it to be a safe place as well as a place for the teens to feel important.

“It’s more than just kids come in, hang out and leave, it’s getting to know them and hopefully be encouraging and uplifting for them as well,” she said.

All the details have not yet been finalized. The process has taken a little longer than planned.

“There’s a lot of things involved and it’s been a learning process for me,” she said stating that she hopes that it will open in the fall.

“We’re not government funded or funded by grants,” she said. “We are completely supported by members of the community.

“The sooner we get more funding the faster we can get things finished up here because really all it comes down to now is buying a few things, painting the stage, put up a few lights and hanging ceiling fans, but other than that the construction is all done,” Burk continued.

Kingsley United Methodist Church is hosting a pancake and sausage breakfast fundraiser from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday. This event will be a free will donation with all proceeds going to the Portal 2:20 Teen Center in Van Wert.