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Sunnyside church steps up community outreach

Sunnyside's Oasis Community Church, known locally for its many efforts to offer comfort to the homeless, has now announced plans to launch a ministry to change for the better lives of at-risk youth. Coming in September, the church leaders will open "the Underground," a drop-in center for at-risk youths and their families, which will be open three days a week. The at-risk youth programs will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. initially. The drop-in center will be open for the homeless in the mornings but the times for that ministry have not yet been determined. According to Pastor Cameron Garcia, the new outreach ministry will be located in the North Avenue church basement and will not only serve youth but the homeless as well. Garcia describes the mission as a place where people can gather and where the church and community can intersect. "The vision for The Underground is relationships," he said. "We want to offer families and youth a safe environment, where they can build relationships and have access to community resources, as needed," he explained. "We are not looking to be in the case management business or work as service providers," he added. Garcia's church has for the past several winters operated an extreme weather shelter in the church basement. This past January, the church also hosted the Yakima County Point In Time Homeless Count. As a result, the church leaders have now determined that the current building is not versatile enough for the new missions. Garcia said the church leaders have decided to put the current building up for sale and to seek a less traditional church building, giving the church more functional space. But in the meantime, Garcia said the church elders felt it was important to move ahead with the opening of The Underground drop-in center. "The need is here now," he said. Tuesday morning of this week, Garcia gathered together community leaders who deal with the social and legal issues facing at-risk youth and their families to form a community advisory group. "We are not planning to be a place where we manage cases," Garcia said. He feels The Underground should be a place where youth and their families can build relationships. "We do want to know what resources are available in our community to help our families," he said. He said the program will be volunteer-driven, "...but we want to ensure that our volunteers undergo safety training and criminal background checks for their own protection and that of the youth," he explained.

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