Pineville Youth Center closes after 11 years serving area students

The Pineville Youth Center is closing its doors but its spirit will live on in the minds and hearts of the young people who have passed through its doors during the 11 years of operation.

“These kids are really a part of me. I always called my job a ministry because it wasn’t just for the paycheck. There wasn’t enough paycheck to do what we do for these kids,” said director Al Peychaud, a retired teacher from the parish school in Rapides who came out of retirement to run the center.

The center closes in about two weeks due to a lack of funding, Peychaud said. The center and after-school program were operated by the Town of Pineville. Most after-school programs are funded by grants, he explained.

Mayor Rich Dupree said in an email that the decision was made months ago during the budget review process by former Mayor Clarence Fields. Discussions about the center revealed that attendance has dropped dramatically.

“Another significant factor was also that the RPSB and other organizations used federal funds for after-school and summer programs, and that also contributed to our low enrollment,” Dupree said in the e-mail. mail. “Last month, when Mayor Fields prepared and presented his last budget as mayor, he recommended to the finance committee that with the retirement of Mr. Peychaud – as well as the other things we were seeing, it was time to reallocate those employees and put that $250,000 a year budget into other City departments.”

Many of the children who came to the center were very young, like four or five years old.

“I’ve never had such a young group,” Peychaud said. “But they came and we accepted them. They don’t just learn educational things. They learn manners. They learn to do the right thing.”

The center helped children with after-school tutoring, provided meals and snacks, and provided life skills programs such as sustainable gardening and nutrition lessons provided by the food bank’s Good Food program of Cenla.

At GFP’s “Goodbye and Good Food Wishes to You” party on Wednesday, children rushed to Peychaud for hugs and attention, both of which he gave freely.

Missing Mr. Peychaud and Four Square

Jace Dixon, 9, had been going to the youth center since he was 5 or 6 years old. “What I will miss most is Mr. Peychaud,” Dixon said. “He has been a very nice person to me and my friends since I arrived.”

“I’m going to miss the classrooms and all the things we do like playing in Four Square and all the toys we have,” said Dillon Swain, 8.

GFP has partnered with the center since 2013 to teach children who were part of the Pineville Youth Center Garden Club how to grow vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage. They even grew strawberries and planted fig trees and blueberries. In 2015, a chicken coop was added with a chicken that the children named “Chick-Chick”.

The children were curious about how food grows, said Frances Boudreaux, director of GFP. This prompted them to try a variety of fresh snacks as long as they include not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but also cereals and dairy products. They tasted foods they didn’t know and learned how to prepare them during cooking and food preparation demonstrations.

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Vegetables and fruit grown in the garden were used in snacks and the children were even able to take home some of the garden’s bounty.

The program Boudreaux set up taught the kids a lot, Peychaud said, and the children looked forward to the gardening program every Wednesday.

Peychaud said many of the former members of the youth center have fond memories of what the Good Food Project has done for them.

“GFP staff have seen many children go through the program, many have now graduated from high school and transitioned into adulthood – we were all amazed at what the children learned,” Boudreaux said. .

Learn life skills

“It made them not only farmers, but they also learned life skills because Ms. Frances had a way of presenting a lesson to these kids that was quite unique and creative,” Peychaud said.

“Throughout this time, we’ve worked with exceptional young people who have learned skills in knowing how to grow nutritious food and make healthier food choices,” Boudreaux said. “I know they will carry this experience and knowledge with them for life.”

“I learned how to plant the seeds and when the fruits or vegetables are cooked or not and what is healthy and what is not,” said Jaz’eh Burns, 10.

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“I learned how to plant a watermelon and other things like gourds and learned to know when they are ripe or not,” said 11-year-old Endya Stafford. And she learned to know when food was spoiled. “When they’re spoiled, they’re brown on one side and mushy.”

Endya said she will miss seeing the friends she made at the center and Jaz’eh will miss meeting new people and having fun. Endya has been coming to the center since 2014 and Jaz’eh has been coming for two summers.

“The Good Food Project focused on changing the culture of health for young people in central Louisiana,” Boudreaux said. “These young people are shining examples of what programs that integrate sustainable gardening practices and good nutrition programs can do to improve health outcomes for an entire region, one child at a time.”

Rhonda Lair (back row, left), community garden manager for the Central Louisiana Food Bank's Good Food Project, and Jayne Wright-Velez, the food bank's executive director, serve young people fruit, vegetables and a 7-layer dip at the farewell party at the Pineville Youth Center.  The center closes after 11 years.

The Pineville Elementary School Drums performed at the party. The school’s music director, Kevin Johnson, will oversee the garden which GFP also participates in, so those who are students at this school will always be able to learn about gardening.

“The only thing we lose is this building here,” Johnson said. “That’s it.”

On Wednesday, Peychaud told the children that the center only had 12 days left and that they should enjoy every minute of it.

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget going through this journey, going through this program,” he said.

For him, it was quite a journey.

“Needless to say, I’m going to miss it,” he said.

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