SHERMAN - A proposed center for youth in Sherman moved closer to becoming a reality as Michelle Swabik, executive director and visionary, announced Friday that The Rural Center would be located in the old Ford garage on Main Street.
"We can't wait to refurbish this historic building and not only preserve a Sherman landmark, but use it for the good of the community," Swabik said.
Representatives from state and local government as well as social agencies also voiced their support for the program at a press conference/chicken barbecue on Sherman Central School's athletic field.
Photo by David Prenatt
Sherman Central School principal Michael Ginestre voices the district’s support for the Rural Center.
Swabik said she came to envision a center for youth more than three years ago. While there are programs in Jamestown and Dunkirk, she realized that transportation was the greatest obstacle for youth in the western side of the county.
"The lake divides us," she said. "The north and south portions of the county have programs, but in the west, people have to travel 20 or 30 minutes to get there."
Swabik, who moved to Sherman in 2009, said she would see young people from the Sherman-area youths and from surrounding towns on the streets after school or waiting for an athletic event. "I kept thinking: I wish they had a place to go," she said.
From that she developed the idea of a center to support youth and their families throughout western Chautauqua County with Sherman as the hub. The program would not only provide a place for them to go, but provide mentoring from adults and peers, teach life skills, promote good and healthy life choices and empower youth to become leaders in the community.
"We wanted to provide a network of support to help break the cycle of poverty in the area and help our youth to grow physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually," she said.
Swabik formed a board of directors with six other people who shared her vision. Since then they have been working diligently to obtain licensing, raise funds, seek incorporation and tend to the legal issues involved in such an undertaking. Just recently, the board formed a partnership with Chautauqua County Opportunities Inc. "We've just started the ball rolling," she said. "Tonight we are starting to break out into the community."
Swabik stressed the need for total commitment to the program. "This is a big vision. With a group of committed people, it can become a reality," she said.
The vision is already becoming a reality, however, as was attested by a wide range of community and government representatives who voiced their support for the center.
Present were Isaac Gratto, deputy mayor of Sherman; Michael Ginestre, principal of Sherman Central School; William Bills, youth asset development manager for Chautauqua Opportunities Inc.; David Himeleim, Chautauqua County Legislator; Jacqueline Chiarot, representing Congressman Tom Reed; and Lori Cornell from Governor Cuomo's office.
But the most telling voice was that of Sherman junior Emily Norton, who has participated in the Sherman Recreational Center's seven-week summer program since she was in kindergarten.
"I would love to see a community center open year round... We need another gymnasium, a place that is safe and out of the nasty weather Sherman has for most of the year," Norton said. "We need good role models and older youth. We need a place that is safe and drug-free, a place to hang out."
Deputy Mayor Gratto emphasized the need for a center that would strengthen the community. "We have to show our support," he said.
Ginestre said that the district was fully behind the center and ready to assist in any way it could. "Any time we can have a vision like Michelle has to help youth make positive choices we are all for it.
She has worked diligently to make this happen," he said. "Now the youth of our area might have a place to go for activities, educational enrichment and help in making choices... We are very happy to be involved and look forward to a great partnership with the rural center."
Bills said that Swabik had contacted Chautauqua Opportunities not long ago and a partnership was quickly formed. "Our vision is very similar to the vision of the Rural Center. It was only natural that we came on-board with Michelle and the board," he said.
He praised Swabik for not only having a vision, but acting on it with commitment. "People are good at pointing out deficiencies and what we don't have... Michelle and the board looked at the need... and made a commitment to change."
Chiarot thanked Swabik for her passion. "It is such an important part of a community that youth have a place to go where they don't have to worry about bad options and where people pay attention to them and help them make good decisions so that they in turn can become leaders of the community," she said.
Cornell said that Governor Cuomo was "extremely supportive" of the center. "The family unit and parents are the primary support for youth, but none of us can do it alone," she said. "Supported activities are the key."