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Kim Harmon, left, and Mari Jo Lohmeier hope to create a center for youth and families in Park Rapids. "Investing in our youth is the best investment for our community," they advise.

Pair hopes to see a 'Wreck' in Park Rapids

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Park Rapids Enterprise
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Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Mari Jo Lohmeier and Kim Harmon are looking for investors to bolster a precious commodity - community youth.

They are proposing to assemble "The Wreck" - with rec - recreation - at the heart of the initiative.

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Lohmeier and Harmon, who worked together as student success coordinators at Century School, discussed the need for youth activities in Park Rapids.

Harmon, who's lived in Chicago and Indianapolis and the mother of three, had grown accustomed to "options" cities have to offer - zoos, museums and amusement parks with inflatables.

"Here, poof! Nothing," Harmon said of life in the north country. And the outdoor playing season is a short one.

Harmon broached the idea of a youth center to Lohmeier who initially, "blew it off," until the duo headed to Detroit Lakes to tour the Backyard, an addition to the Community and Cultural Center. The center, they discovered, was proving to be a grand success.

The Park Rapids "youth zone" project is modeled after the Backyard, "a safe center where kids can engage in physical activity and families can connect, play and discover."

Open year 'round, the facility plans call for an indoor playground, gym space, a laser maze, youth lounge, inflatables and a snack bar.

The target audience is families with young children, grade school and middle kids and high school students, as well as civic organizations involved with youth.

Kids can play, while parents are engaged in activities such as Pilates, Bible study or crafts. Day cares would have access to the enterprise.

The Wreck, with a location yet to be determined, will be set up as a non-profit, with a board of directors that includes Molly Aukes, Matt Kaufenberg, Aarin Galsky and Lohmeier and Harmon.

"We are all passionate about kids, and community minded," Lohmeier said.

The two plan to serve as co-directors of The Wreck, working with Dave Collins of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission on surveys and research.

Parent survey comments are showing strong support for the initiative.

"We need a rec center in Park Rapids," a parent wrote. "I drive to Detroit Lakes now."

"Would love to see something like this. Definitely lacking family friendly areas in town," another wrote.

They are now hoping to raise $25,000 as a "down payment" on the estimated $650,000 facility. The Hewitt Foundation has pledged matching funds of up to $500 per donation with a ceiling of $15,000. They plan to pursue grants and raise funds through a capital campaign, Northwest Minnesota Foundation having agreed to train them in fundraising.

Currently, donations are being accepted through the Park Rapids Community Fund.

"With $400,000, we can get the doors open," Lohmeier said.

"The timeline is based on community support," said Lohmeier, who founded the 8th Hour program. "It's a community project. A community center has been a goal for years. But it won't happen overnight."

Lohmeier and Harmon are seeking grant writers and people to assist with fundraising.

Proposed pricing calls for a daily pass ($6) or a 12-punch pass (60). Space for after-school activities would be available. Birthday parties could be held on the site. A scholarship fund would be set up for those unable to afford the passes.

"We are looking for time and talent," Lohmeier said of "sweat equity."

"We're so excited about this," she said.

"We'd love to say we had a hand in this coming to town," Harmon agreed.

For more information, e-mail parkrapidswreck@gmail. com.

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Jean Ruzicka
(218) 732-3364
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