SALEM - Four years ago on New Year's Eve, some area young people hung out together at a new place called the ROC. Tonight they'll be hanging out again for a lock-in 'til morning, safely ringing in 2014 and celebrating the non-denominational Christian youth center's anniversary.
"We've grown in numbers and grown in impact," ROC Director Eric Hamilton said.
The New Year's Eve party for young people ages 13-20 will take place from 7 p.m. today until 7 a.m. Wednesday at the ROC, 261 S. Lundy Ave., the site of the former St. John the Evangelist Romanian Orthodox Church.
Hamilton said this will be the second time they've hosted a New Year's Eve party, which will feature music performed by a group of kids from the ROC, games, some small group discussions, door prizes, a cake and lots of other food. At midnight, he said they'll watch the television coverage of the ball drop in Times Square in New York City, followed by their own music celebration.
He recalled that maybe 15 to 20 teens came to their first New Year's Eve party. Now he said they attract a lot more teens when the ROC is open from 7 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays for the age range from 13 to 20.
This summer they also started catering to the younger youth, opening on Thursday nights for kids ages 10-12.
They knew there was a need for that age group because they had to keep turning them away on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so they were given their own night. The New Year's Eve lock-in will be for the older group, ages 13-20, with 30 to 40 or more kids expected.
Reflecting on the past four years, Hamilton said "we've just seen attitudes change and when attitudes change, actions can change."
For him, the job has proven both rewarding and fun because he gets to know the young people, hear about their lives and help lead them in the right direction. He described the young people who come to the ROC as a melting pot, with all kinds of kids represented from all different backgrounds. Some of the kids at the ROC are already on the right path and they enjoy being friends and mentors to their peers.
What makes the ROC work is the young people themselves because teens are leading other teens, he said.
"I think we've made a difference," Hamilton said.
Everything is free for the kids, with donations and fundraisers like the 5K Obstacle Race for the ROC covering costs. Most of the kids come from Salem, but students from other area schools have come also and are always welcome.
"We really couldn't do what we do without the support of a lot of the area businesses. They've been very generous to us," he said, adding how they also depend on people in the community and churches in the community since the ROC is a non-profit operation. "That's kind of our lifeline - the generosity of others."
Hamilton is assisted by ROC Assistant Director Josh Harbin, who started out as one of the teens and developed into a key leader who connects with the kids and has been very helpful.
"He's very instrumental in the growth that we've had," Hamilton said.
As a Christian youth center, the ROC has good partnerships with area churches, with several churches represented on the ROC Board. According to Hamilton, their goal is to have kids come to the ROC who would never set foot in a church and introduce them to Christ, then have them eventually join area church youth groups. The idea of the ROC is also to give them a safe place where they can hang out and have some fun.
Adult chaperones are on hand on regular nights and for the lock-ins. The doors will be locked at 10 p.m. tonight.
Anyone wanting to donate to the ROC or learn more about the program can contact Hamilton at 330-974-8844 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.