MONTHS of hard work, elbow-grease and teamwork culminated in a special event last Friday, when the Healesville Salvation Army opened their new youth drop-in centre.
The Lounge is the new incarnation of the Salvation Army Hall, a drop-in centre for young people after hours and on Friday evenings, aiming to provide a safe space for young people to see each other.
Community members, high school students and Salvation Army dignitaries filled the lounge on Friday 22 May for the opening, which was led by Lieutenant Sarah Eldridge.
Open on Friday evenings from 5pm-9pm and other evenings by request, Ms Eldridge said The Lounge will be staffed at all times by herself and youth worker Eliza Owen.
Though the hall boasts gaming consoles, DVDs, a pool table, kitchen and, of course, lounges, Ms Eldridge said the highlight for her was having a space for people under 21 to be safe after hours.
“One of the things I hear constantly in town is that young people tend to hang out at Coles or Queens Park,” she said.
“It’s winter, and it’s cold, and it’s not a great space for them to hang out.
“Kids can come out of the cold and into the warmth … and play PlayStation, play pool, watch DVDs and have someone to talk to if they’ve got stuff going on in their life that they can’t make sense of.”
Work on refurbishing the Salvation Army Hall began late last year, with Ms Owen, Rhyannon Dixon, their friends and families all working to improve the space.
On the opening night, the painted walls, lights wrapping around the rafters and new furniture made the hall almost unrecognisable from eight months ago.
In her speech, Lieutenant Eldridge acknowledged that The Lounge was a “dramatic change” for the services offered by the Salvation Army in town, but that it was more youth-oriented, and linked with their work at Healesville High School.
Ms Owen, a former Healesville High School student, said The Lounge was a place where young people could “feel welcomed and not judged, and loved”.
“If they’ve got a problem, they can open up and talk to us about it,” she said.
Yarra Ranges councillor Fiona McAllister congratulated the Salvation Army, Lieutenant Eldridge and Ms Owen on their work, and related to not having a space like The Lounge when she was growing up.
“We didn’t have anything for us to do – we caught a bus into the city and we hung out with friends and family, but we didn’t have a space for us,” she said.
“When I step into this room, I can imagine what it is like to have a space for you, designed by you.”
Eildon MP Cindy McLeish said the organisation was full of “quiet achievers”, and also congratulated them for the opening.
“This is a great example, where they’ve got on with it, seen what needs to be done and come up with this wonderful concept,” she said.
For more information on The Lounge, visit www.facebook.com/theloungehealesville, or call Sarah Eldridge on 0429 988 920.
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