SWYC and The Hub after-school program close after 22 years

After 22 years of providing services and a safe place for South Whidbey youths to go after school, the South Whidbey Youth Connection and its most successful program, The Hub, are closing.

There’s hope, however, that another entity will be able to restart it.

“We can’t afford to do it anymore,” said Duane Gimbel, executive director of the South Whidbey Youth Connection. “But we want to keep everything in place in case there’s another group that feels that they can.”

While the programs have already stopped, SWYC is leaving all its equipment — worth more than $100,000 — at the United Methodist Church. Gimbel hopes it will give another group a head start in establishing another program.

“We are leaving everything intact in The Hub: the pool tables, the pingpong tables, the Wii games, the big screen TV, the musical instruments, the pots and pans, the dishes, the silverware,” he said. “We’re leaving everything intact and giving it back to United Methodist Church in hopes that another group will be able to pick up this program or restart this program.”

In the past six months, SWYC lost $160,000 in funding from federal, state and private foundation support.

“You know what’s happening with state and federal funding,” Gimbel said. “It’s disappearing, quickly.”

Despite eliminating all programs except The Hub in the past six months, cutting administrative staff time by 85 percent, closing The Hub on Fridays and receiving strong community support, the organization couldn’t keep running without more consistent funding.

The Hub has been a staple resource for youths in the South Whidbey community, providing them with a safe place to hang out after school.

“They don’t have to worry about somebody asking them if they want to smoke a joint or cigarette or have a beer or have sex. It’s just a safe place to be for kids, and that’s what we were all about,” Gimbel said.

In surveys conducted at the end of each school year to measure satisfaction with the programs, students responded overwhelmingly that The Hub is a safe place to go after school.

While the Langley Christian & Missionary Alliance and South Whidbey Commons offer programs for middle or high schoolers once a week, Gimbel said there really isn’t anything else that serves these kids on a consistent, daily basis as The Hub did.

More than 6,000 youths have benefited from SWYC throughout the years. Programs and activities have included creating chalk art on Langley sidewalks, field trips, drug- and violence-free concerts, tutor and mentoring programs, field trips and summer programs, Jobline, the Teen Employment Experience Network, the Walk-In Closet and other free activities.

A grassroots group started SWYC in 1989, responding to concerns over young people hanging around town.

“Personally my hope is that the community will again see all these kids hanging out and see the necessity of a drop-in center for them,” Gimbel said.

The closure isn’t for lack of community support.

Gimbel said the organization is grateful for the support of the church, which provided them with free rent and utilities and other support.

“In fact when the church celebrated their hundredth anniversary a year ago, we figured out that their donations had totaled close to over $750,000 — three quarters of a million. That’s a lot.”

Good Cheer is another community organization that has been incredibly supportive over the years.

“They adopted us as a large family and allowed us to feed kids every day after school,” Gimbel said.

Gimbel also expressed gratitude for “the board, the staff, our contributors, everybody who’s helped keep us open over the years.”

All SWYC programs have been shut down, but the administrative offices will stay open into next month.

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