Big youth center on the prairie

Carrington Youth Center, Carrington, North Dakota

The Otto Bremer Trust supported Carrington Youth Center’s efforts to reinvigorate the center through an investment of $95,800, which was used to help repair and renovate the vibrant community’s youth center.

The Carrington Youth Center in tiny Carrington, N.D., smells like a small-town movie theater — all buttery popcorn and squirrelly kids.

That’s because it is a movie theater. It’s also an after-school program, and an event center, and a bowling alley, and even a concession stand for passers-by who stop in to order buckets of movie-theater popcorn to go.

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Hear how the community of Carrington N.D. rallied to restore its aging community center.

This former Main Street grocery store turned hardware store turned youth center with the bright marquee out front has become a beacon for this community of 2,200 — an inviting, spacious, multi-room facility that comes alive every afternoon as soon as school’s out.

A little after 3 p.m., kids start tumbling in from the elementary school a couple blocks away. They hang up their coats and backpacks on a neat row of hooks. Within minutes, the place is hopping. Board games, video games, table shuffleboard — this rec room has it all. Kids kneel on a rug to play a giant Jenga game. They jostle for position around a foosball table. They lounge and do homework in big leathery booths. They use snack accounts set up by their parents to “buy” popcorn, licorice, and Sour Patch Kids.

Then a few hours later, the crack of air hockey pucks wanes. After the kids have gone home, the crew of mostly high school students that works here prepares for the next event: movie night.

Soon moms, dads, and a new crop of kids file in to buy tickets to tonight’s movie: “Leap!” Like most of the movies that play here, it’s a first-run film at a small-theater price — an attraction that saves families a drive to Jamestown, more than 40 miles away. And tonight the movie is an extra good deal. As happens about once a month, a sponsor is picking up the tab for all tickets sold.

Meanwhile, at the adjacent Central City Lanes bowling alley, members of the high school volleyball team are enjoying the center’s other main feature. Wearing stiff new shoes, they spin balls down gleaming lanes.

“In a rural community, we don’t have the option to get all the big things that are in big cities,” says Linda Schuster, a center volunteer. “We need to create those things ourselves.”

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The renovation of the bowling alley not only gave the community another place the frequent, it also brought in new business.

The youth center is a result of that kind of thinking. A few years ago this space in the heart of the town was underused and out-of-date. Then a new board of directors came in and rolled up its sleeves. They raised money, got creative, and inspired the whole community to get involved. They procured a state-of-the-art movie projector. They bought theater seats and bowling lanes second-hand. Checks poured in. Volunteers cleaned, painted, and scraped glue off floors.

Now they have a buzzing community hub. A place where girls do cartwheels as their parents stand in line for movie tickets. A place where a toddler, amazed by the giant Jenga blocks, learns a new game and shouts, “I’m good at this, Mommy!” A place with sapphire-blue and spring-green walls that emanates happy energy — an unexpected oasis on the plains.

With support from the Otto Bremer Trust, Carrington Youth Center provides a facility for area youth to gather and enjoy age-appropriate recreation under adult supervision, and for the entire community to participate in recreational activities.