Ex-seminarian finds a mission in Cape St. Claire

NEIGHBORS

October 24, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHUCK SELLNER, director of the Broadneck Family Youth Center in Cape St. Claire, was on his way in 1993 to becoming an ordained Methodist minister at Wesley Seminary in Washington when he felt called to go in a different direction: mission and outreach work.

So, the 34-year-old Clinton native says, "I left the ordination process and did my own thing."

Armed with a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and a master's of divinity from Wesley, Sellner took a job in 1995 as youth minister at Cape St. Claire United Methodist Church.

Under his guidance, the young people at the church wanted to work with a hands-on mission for kids, but there was none in the area.

So Sellner began looking for a location, and within a year, with financial help from the dozen-member Broadneck Ministerium and supported "by every church, temple and business in Broadneck," he opened a youth center in the Cape St. Claire Shopping Center.

He was hoping for a federal grant to finance the center, but when that did not happen, he says, "The need was there, so I took a leap of faith."

The center has received county and state grants but money is always in short supply. "When we have enough money left over at the end of the month," Sellner says, "I get paid."

At the same time he went to work at the Cape St. Claire church, Sellner was running a youth crisis center in Alexandria, Va.

He left that job two years ago to concentrate on the church youth group, now nearly 40 strong, and expanding services at the youth center.

More than 500 young people are registered at the center that is located behind Rita's Italian Ice shop, facing Hilltop Drive.

About 20 of them, ages 10 to 17, show up each day at the center's supervised afternoon recreation sessions: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

The center's twice-a-month Friday night band concerts attract as many as 100 teen-agers ages 14 to 17, says Sellner.

In a protected environment, the kids can play pingpong, pool or board games, watch TV or play video games. And, there's a lot of space to sit around and talk, Sellner adds.

Mentoring and counseling for individuals and families are offered at the center, which also provides a place for supervised visitations sponsored by the county's Family Law Division of Family Court.

For example, says Sellner, if there are allegations of abuse or similar problems in a family, one parent can drop off a child at the center for the other parent to have a monitored visitation with the child. Sellner is negotiating with the courts for a contract that will reimburse the center for this service that it now provides without pay.

One of the center's most beneficial services is its drop-in tutoring program from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays or by appointment. Students in grades 5 and up, usually from Broadneck High School and Magothy and Severn River middle schools, take advantage of the program.

It is facilitated by two retired teachers, Chuck Rowell, who taught chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy, and David Williams, who taught math at Northeast and Severna Park high schools. Several older teen-agers also help tutor.

Rooms in the center are available to nonprofit groups without charge. Organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Boy Scouts use the space, which is also a venue for events such as the poetry reading this past weekend.

A new overhead sign at the center announces coming events.

"In terms of services, we're just getting started," says Sellner. "We started as a rec center, and have spent the last six years building our program.

"We're now where we want to be. The next step will be to be paid for our services. We get a lot of donated support. That's a strong thing."

The Broadneck Family Youth Center can be reached at 410-626-8281. For e-mail, bfyc1@aol.com.

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