Church of the Brethren offers a safe place for all age groups to gather
February 16, 2022
The Haxtun community offers options these days for hosting community events, including two fine school gyms and an elegant community center. That was not the case in the 1920s and 1930s when the large capacity of the Haxtun Church of the Brethren building served the community by hosting events such as eighth grade commencement, high school graduation, funerals and marriages.
Today, the school, other local churches and the community center meet the space requirements for those events, but there are times that conflicts call for additional space or a specific project needs long-term space. An example is education classes.
Recently the school held a band concert in the sanctuary of the Church that drew a record audience of over 100 persons. "It was awesome, said Jeremy Kilpatrick, Veteran Service Officer for Phillips County. "We kept putting up chairs and they kept coming."
"We don't want to compete with the community center," said Kilpatrick, who is also the founder of a non-profit called Klover Kare, which hopes to draw students, Veterans and community members together for the common goal of gardening. "We believe that the Community Center as a whole is providing the exact need for planning events, but when it comes to the students, they are always second. For instance, they can have their big events at the gym, but what about when they want to practice their presentations for the FFA or other groups? They have to do it at the school or they have to find another place. This gives them the opportunity to come and learn in a safe place; a place where they are not judged."
"There's no one here that is going to tell them, 'that's terrible.' We're going to tell them look, I've taken public speaking classes. I can help. It gives them that added mentorship situation," he added.
The idea to open the Haxtun Church of the Brethren building for use by other organizations developed when the church's membership realized the magnitude of the artwork created by life-long member and local artist Jessie (Whitney) Scott that could be lost should the building become dormant sometime in the future. Scott's paintings and murals adorn the walls of many homes, churches and businesses around Northeast Colorado, and one of her paintings hangs in the offices of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC.
This open-door policy also follows a recent vision statement by the Church of the Brethren denomination that encourages neighborhood engagement. Established in 1708, Brethrens have always demonstrated a generous hospitality that is compatible with that vision. The Church's call to live simply and act responsively is partly a question of good stewardship.
The Haxtun Church of the Brethren, organized in 1887, takes this calling seriously and has maintained an open door policy throughout its 135-year presence in the Haxtun community.
In keeping with that policy, the Haxtun Church of the Brethren members recently invited several individuals and organizations to use portions of the church building to meet a number of needs that include:
• Adult learning opportunities (GED and ESL classes);
• Computer literacy:
• Book study groups
• Children's programming (Klover Kare);
• Space for musical events;
• Exercise classes;
• Office space for a Veteran Service Officer and;
• Meeting space for the Haxtun Chamber of Commerce as well as eventually an office.
Collectively, several of these ideas operate under the flexible moniker of the "Innovation Center."
The idea for the Innovation Center started as a "figment of my imagination," said former Haxtun Chamber of Commerce Director Jenn Oberle. During the growth of Oberle's "figment," members of the Haxtun Church of the Brethren called a meeting and invited members of community organizations to utilize space in the church for events and that gave Oberle's figment a place to grow.
"That's how it started," said Oberle. "Then in March of 2020 COVID hit and everybody was forced to work within their homes. Our students suffered. They suffered number one because there was no interaction and that is quickly tied to mental health, which is what the Veterans Service Officer and Klover Kare are all about."
She said there were also hardships for our local businesses because there was no place to go to get printing done. There was no place to meet with their customers. "We had one restaurant, which was The Daily Grind, and you couldn't even go there because they closed their doors. It was crazy," Oberle said. "So here were all of these businesses and non-profits with no place to meet and all of these students who had to work from home with no equipment."
Kilpatrick said tying Klover Kare and the Innovation Center together is a way to bring the youth and Veterans together as well as business owners. "It acts as a sort of umbrella," said Oberle.
"I see Klover Kare and the Innovation Center intertwined because it allows the Veterans to inspire the next generation," said Kilpatrick. "I think our veterans already do that, but this just puts them closer."
"The importance of being at the Church is that people can come up to the sanctuary where they can find a sense of peace," said Oberle. "We want to walk with our elderly. We want to walk with our veterans. We want to walk with our business owners. They need to feel the support of the community, but also they also need to feel the support here."
Kilpatrick noted that the Center is open to all students of all ages. "If they have questions about college or taking on-line classes, I can help them with that."
They also hope to have Northeastern Junior College put in a satellite station like they have in Yuma and Holyoke. "We don't want our Haxtun people to have to travel. We want them to have the same opportunities that Holyoke and Yuma have," said Oberle.
She said the important thing is to have a space to collaborate; a place where everybody can bounce ideas off each other. "So if they are here and they need a history of the town, there are community members who can tell them that."
She said the goal is to have students go off to college or trade schools or whatever, but to come back to build Haxtun. "We have seen many changes like the hospital. It's not Haxtun Hospital anymore because it is so much more."
"The important thing to stress is that the Innovation Centre is housed by The Church of the Brethren and fueled by the community," said Oberle.
"Our goal is to rejuvenate Main Street but the main thing is we want to provide a safe place where kids can practice their presentations for FFA or FBLA or whatever," Oberle said. They also hope to provide mentoring for students who need help of just support.
Both Klover Kare and the Haxtun Chamber plan to continue seeking grant funds to make needed repairs and renovations where needed.
Because the church is a non-profit, they are prevented from charging for the use of the Church, but the organizations utilizing those areas can make donations to help pay for utilities, maintenance and updating when it might be needed to bring in needed services, for instance Internet, telephone and electrical upgrades.
Although Oberle is leaving to move back to Hawaii to be near her family, she plans to stay in touch and provide advice where needed.
Kelsey Yockey is currently the Interim Director but that could change because the Chamber must advertise the position so that others interested could apply. Oberle said to date, no one else has applied.
While the list of current events are under the umbrella of the "Innovation Center," there could be other proposals presented in the future. For instance, recently a sewing group that provides sewing projects for local assisted care units and for overseas relief programs has requested space in the basement and Kilpatrick feels that can happen with very little work. "There is the old quilters room where the benches are now stacked, that could work for the women to store their sewing machines," said Kilpatrick. The group currently meets at the community center, but must take their machine home each day. This way they could leave them and Kilpatrick said he could lock them up for protection.
The Haxtun Church of the Brethren continues to provide a safe and sacred gathering space, including Sunday worship and fellowship as well a long-running progressive weekly study group. Church programming events remain a priority, but flexibility is encouraged. The Church continues to provide a sanctuary that is both literal and theological.
Scott's artwork includes a life-sized picture of Christ that hangs in front of the sanctuary, a stained glass back for a worship center and eight stained-glass windows that depict the life of Christ. Members plan to preserve not only Scott's art, but also her memory.