Mitchell organization offers a teen center for 20 years

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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — “Welcome to level two,” a voice rang out as a group of eight teenagers cheered and high-fived their quick success.

The group had just begun an escape room four minutes earlier inside of That Place for Teens at Mitchell’s Life Church on Mitchell’s Main Street. And though they had an hour to complete their multi-level challenge, tension filled the air of the closed off space.

But tensions quickly turned into laughter as the eight teens moved on to solve the next level. They would have at least 10 more before winning.

The escape room is one of two held at That Place for Teens — an organization in Mitchell that creates a hangout spot for area teenagers on Friday nights. The escape room, called “Gamer’s Gold,” opened two weeks ago and serves as a fundraiser for the group.

“The goal isn’t so much as to raise funds with this but get people into the building who’ve never seen it before,” said Bill Parks, pastor of Mitchell’s Life Church. “People come in because they know what escape rooms are about, but they get to see who we are as a teen center and as a church and why it is that we would do something like this.”

That Place for Teens began 20 years ago, and is always open Friday nights as a free drop-in center from 7 to 11 p.m. for children in seventh to 12th grades.

Walking inside the large building on Main Street, visitors are greeted by several TVs, a concession-like area, free-play game tables, booths and board games, a stage decked out with a sound and light system, a resource library and everything a teen might need, Parks said.

But it was last fall that the group decided to try something new. In October 2016, That Place opened its first escape room called “The Portico Paradox.” An escape room varies from place to place, but provides players with a series of puzzles and riddles to complete in order to escape the room within a set time limit.

And the idea behind the escape room — providing an outlet for teens to make friends and have fun — defines That Place.

“I wouldn’t give my Fridays up for 20 years of my life if I didn’t love doing what we’re doing,” Parks said.

The center began two decades ago when the city was concerned with local teenagers hanging out in parking lots, the Daily Republic reported . Officials held meetings to form a teen center, Parks said, and seeing the initiative “go nowhere,” he and a couple of people with the Life Church decided to form the center downtown.

Unsure of what to call the new teen center, they held a contest to name it. On top of the other “goofy names” submitted, the group decided to go with “That Place for Teens.”

All volunteer-run, the hours for the center are limited to Friday nights. And to book an appointment for the escape room, “Gamer’s Gold,” interested parties can go online to thatplaceforteens.org.

And for any teens interested in the center, they are welcome to stop by any Friday night from 7 to 11 p.m., Parks said. The free night welcomes all, and it has seen children stop by from all over South Dakota, including Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

Parks has hoped the center has encouraged others to be more welcoming, he said.

“We wouldn’t need places like this if more families said ‘Here, come hangout with us.’ It’d be a lot easier to maintain a facility like this. Everything costs money. Finding volunteers and adult workers is hard,” Parks said. “But anybody’s welcome. It’s a safe place.”

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