The heavy door at the entrance causes only a moment’s pause as a flood of breathless children, fresh off the bus from school, race to sign in and begin an afternoon at The Intersection.
First stop: snack time.
Pulling up the sleeves of his red sweatshirt and munching on an oatmeal cookie, a small boy warily eyes stacks of practice worksheets, which will constitute his homework today since he didn’t bring any from school. Then, with an accepting gulp of cherry Kool-Aid, he picks up a pencil and asks, “Who’s my mentor?”.
Dana Battison, executive director of The Intersection, envisions the activity center for youth and families providing mentors who make a positive difference in the lives of many Columbia children. Currently, Battison said, 35 to 40 children visit the center at Sexton Road and Garth Avenue each day after school. She hopes for an even bigger turnout in the days and weeks to come.
“There are over 1,000 kids within walking distance of this corner,” Battison said. “We’re trying to create a place here to help them and their families make the best of what they have, break cycles of poverty and abuse, and set their sights higher.”
Battison had planned to begin programming at The Intersection by the start of school in August. But the opening was slowed by several delays, including stalled construction, inadequate funding and the process of obtaining proper city permits.
Construction of the center, which officially opened Oct. 6, began in February on land donated by Grace Covenant Church. Battison said the 4,200-square-foot building cost around $300,000, all of which came from fund-raising and private donations. She said she’s still trying to raise the final $9,000 owed on the building.
The Intersection contains several classrooms, a recreation area, a full kitchen and showers. High ceilings and large windows crown most of the rooms, which feature open-air doorways. The design creates a homelike atmosphere conducive to learning, Battison said.
The center remains surrounded more by mud than lawn, and it is flanked by a plywood wheelchair ramp rather than a permanent one. Still, Battison said, The Intersection is in full swing after its first weeks in operation. The biggest thing it’s lacking, she said, is volunteers.
“I wish people understood how much fun it is just to sit and help somebody,” Battison said.
Douglas Stevens, a 16-year-old junior at Hickman High School who lives right down the road from The Intersection, works at the center’s front desk. He said he chose the job because he can make a difference for kids who attend after school.
“Today is my first day actually working here, but I helped break the ground for this building,” Stevens said. “I think I’m good with kids. I know how to talk to them and teach them the right stuff.”
The Intersection’s adult staff, composed of VISTA volunteers with a one-year commitment to the center, is well-trained in helping children make personal success plans.
“All this energy is going to grow up,” nighttime coordinator Mark Anderson said as he cast his eyes around a roomful of kids. “Where are we going to gear them to?”
A big part of success, Anderson said, is consistency in the way children are taught.
“I’m as consistent as Betty Crocker,” Anderson said over groans of protest in a crowded study room.
“You’ve all got homework,” Anderson reminded the group.
Willie Smith, afternoon coordinator, said The Intersection hopes to move beyond the curriculum students get in regular classrooms and teach life skills such as manners and good behavior.
“We need to work on capabilities, and to do that, we have to address behavior, not MAP scores,” Smith said.
Smith, who played basketball for MU in the 1970s before playing for five years in the NBA, said he can relate to children at The Intersection because he was “one of them” while growing up with a single mom in urban Las Vegas.
“I had mentors from elementary school to college. I was always told the truth and was encouraged when I didn’t have confidence,” Smith said. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to college without them,” Smith said. “Here, we’ll need to get a child’s attention, gain his trust, then make inroads to tackle the hard stuff.”
Battison said that when she first came to Columbia, she planned to start a singing group. A meeting with a poor young mother who lacked basic cooking skills, however, made her realize that this community needed more than a choir.
“I thought, ‘This girl wants to make something of herself, but she can’t access the resources she needs. Something needs to be done,’” Battison said.
Providing the underprivileged with a “hand up, not a handout” is The Intersection’s goal, Battison said. Hence, the center’s simple motto: “Making connections that change lives.”
Address: 7 E. Sexton Road
Phone number: 817-0089
Executive director: Dana Battison
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays.
Schedule of offerings
Afternoons: Tutoring, mentoring and recreation for school-age children
Evenings: Classes and recreational programs for the whole family, GED classes starting Nov. 3
— All programs are free to the public.
— To participate, children need consent forms from parents. Registration is required for adult programs..
— Volunteer mentors and financial supporters are still needed. Those who are interested should contact Battison for details.