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Off the streets, for fun of it

 
Published May 4, 1996|Updated Sept. 16, 2005

It used to be a Circle K store. Now it's the Power House.

The after-school teen hangout is across from Gulf High School. It offers activities such as table tennis, pool and air hockey.

And it features a congenial host: 25-year-old Lonnie Johnson, a Gulf High graduate and ministry center director for this Youth for Christ facility.

Johnson says he likes hanging out with the kids. He describes Power House as a drop-in center to help keep kids out of trouble. It is open from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays, when some teens would otherwise be unsupervised.

"The purpose is to give the kids a place where they can be kids and have fun and not be knocked for having fun," Johnson says. "It provides a place for them to be safe and to receive encouragement in their search for spirituality."

He cites statistics showing that the hours right after school and before parents get home from work are the hours when teens get into the most trouble. Most of the time, he says, he doesn't preach to the kids, but if they come and ask questions, he will share his thoughts.

"Pat answers don't work. I have learned that and I don't try them. I have also learned to say, "I don't know.'

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When asked what teens' biggest problems are, Johnson put the question to a group at the center. A common refrain was that they feel that their parents are too picky about petty things. One teen said her mother will never admit she is wrong.

Most of the teens live with only one parent or with a grandparent, and some talk with Johnson about court dates they have.

"I have seen everything, including grand theft auto. The kids don't really blame their problems on anybody _ they say they are just bored and they want something to do.

"I try to get the teens to see it from their mom or dad's side and have them think about it. There is lots of anger, especially with the fathers."

He says forgiveness is an important part of the message.

Johnson began as volunteer and has been a paid staff member for the past two years. He puts in about 40 hours a week on Youth for Christ activities, including leading a Campus Life Club at Gulf Middle School on Thursday afternoons. When not involved in his Youth for Christ work, Johnson attends Trinity College in New Port Richey and will graduate this year. His focus is Biblical studies and the fine arts.

As for his work at Power House, he says, "I don't have a degree in counseling, but I think that God has put something very important in my heart: It is the love for the students, and empty words don't help them."

He has two desires: "To reach kids that are not being reached by the church and to have people from local churches spend time with the kids at Power House. That has been the tough part, getting youth pastors and other youth to come to Power House."

He says many have a mindset about getting involved with the Power House kids. Johnson also encourages parents to visit Power House, and he will gladly come down any,time to meet with a parent or teen. That offer goes to other youth groups and youth pastors in the area.

"Something that blesses me immensely," he says, "is to see a parent come in and play pool with the students."

Get in the game

If you have time for a game, call Power House at (813) 848-4647.