ROC solid: Non-profit, Christian-based venue for youth celebrating 10th anniversary

Non-profit, Christian-based venue for youth celebrating 10th anniversary

The adults and kids at the ROC of Salem hit a ball back and forth in the main sanctuary of the former church building located on South Lundy Avenue in Salem. The ROC is a non-profit and relies solely on donations to sustain the operations, with some assistance from area churches and some businesses. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — A Boy Scout Bible study group got to talking in 2009. They wanted a safe sanctuary for kids in Salem, a place where they could shoot some pool, hang out with other kids and not worry about being bullied or judged, and even pray a little.

That conversation begat the ROC of Salem, a faith-based center located in a former church on South Lundy Avenue equipped with comfy couches, food and fun games — all at no cost for the kids.

As the 10-year anniversary approaches at the end of this year, some of those same kids who hung out the early years at the ROC are still hanging out.

Except now they’re adults with wives, working in ministries and serving on the staff and board as shining examples of faith and hope the ROC built.

“If it wasn’t for the ROC, I’m not sure where I would be,” assistant director Josh Harbin of Salem said.

Camron Perry, a 16-year-old student at Jackson Milton, middle, hangs out at the pool table with two other teens at the ROC of Salem, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

Harbin was in high school when some friends invited him to play basketball at the ROC. He didn’t grow up in a church and noticed the people there genuinely cared about him. He started hanging out more and eventually accepted Christ, saying the ROC “changed the entire direction of my life.”

He felt called to the ministry and a position opened up at the ROC. He also took a job as youth pastor at the Berlin Center United Methodist Church, which is where he met his wife, Aleesha. Now she’s involved at the ROC, too.

J.W. Linam, who serves the ROC as assistant middle school director, was there on day one — he was part of the Boy Scout Bible study. He said one of the biggest things he learned at the ROC was about Christian fellowship and safe fellowship. He went to college for mechanical engineering and back slid. He had known Carson Bonar, a fellow boy scout and ROC attendee who died in a drowning accident.

He said he attended Carson’s memorial service and rededicated himself to Christ. He’s now the young adult/youth director at Church at the Center and even organized a Bible study at American Standard where he works. He met his wife Nicole through Harbin. He’s also assistant scoutmaster for Troop 2 out of Salem United Methodist Church. Both Nicole and Aleesha serve as female chaperones, but there’s a need for more.

Another of the boys involved in the beginning, Jeff Barton, talked about the ROC at Salem United Methodist Church. Pastor Doug George bought into the idea, leasing the building to the ROC, which is overseen by a board of directors, for $1. Larry Cecil, chairman of the board, said Barton spoke during a Scout Sunday and donations totaling $10,000 resulted.

This is the ROC of Salem, a faith-based place where kids can be kids in a safe environment. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

“He laid the mother of all guilt trips on the congregation,” Cecil said, talking about the need to help the kids in Salem, saying they were in trouble.

Barton now serves on the board and served as youth pastor at Salem United Methodist Church. He’s currently in seminary.

Cecil said all of them, Jeff, J.W. and Josh, are examples and proof that the ROC works and a lot of lives have changed as a result. Josh and J.W. are married to sisters whose younger brother, Camron Perry, now comes to the ROC from Jackson Milton. He’s the youth president.

Director Eric Hamilton, who’s been in charge since the beginning, said he’s noticed a shift in the atmosphere at the ROC. The first five years what drew people in was the free food and sports. Now it’s more about relationships and people having conversations. There are more girls coming to the ROC and they’re still getting kids from all over, not just Salem, but other area schools, too, and also kids from the Hispanic community. One girl who’s 12 said “it’s a cool hangout spot.” She also liked being able to talk with people.

“We’ve stood the test of time,” Hamilton said.

Cecil said what helped the ROC in the beginning was Hamilton’s ability to connect with the kids. He said “he was extremely good at communicating with them.”

Not all plans to celebrate the 10-year anniversary are known at this time, but one thing is for sure. The ROC will ring in the new year and the new decade the same way it started — with a lock-in on New Year’s Eve.

The ROC is open from 6:30 to 8:30p.m. for ages 10 to 18 on Tuesdays; from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for ages 10 to 13 on Thursdays; and from 7 to 10 p.m. for ages 13 to 20 on Saturdays. They have lock-ins on Friday nights quarterly for middle and high school students, sixth through twelfth grades. Once a month on Saturdays, they have events, such as a movie night, a basketball tournament or a Super Smash Bros. tournament. Each night there’s free food, kids can play pool, ping pong, games on the Wii or just talk. On the top floor there’s a prayer room. Each night they have devotions and then close the night with a group activity, such as volleyball or the basketball game known as Knockout.

The initials ROC stand for Representatives of Christ, but the ROC isn’t affiliated with one church and isn’t a church itself. There’s no bad language allowed and no bullying or hazing allowed — it’s about fellowship and fun with some faith mixed in.

The ROC relies strictly on donations, with some churches assisting and some businesses. Checks can be made payable to The ROC of Salem and sent to Hack Steer & Co., c/o Roger Hack, 314 E. Second St., Salem, Ohio 44460. The ROC is a 501c3 charity and Hack is a board member. Other board members besides Cecil, Hack and Barton include Pastor Wayne Clark, Judge Scott Washam, Tim Bowser, Pastor Meta Cramer, Kyle Costal, Pastor Doug George, and Bill Huffman.

To learn more, call 330-974-8844.