By Carol Stiffler
Anything to help the kids.
That’s what Mary Archambeau had in mind when she founded the Luce County Community Resources and Recreation. Now called the LINK, the non-profit organization was originally known as Youth At Play (YAP).
Archambeau started the center in 1997 to give teens a safe place and worthwhile things to do. Together, she and the first LINK Youth Board fixed up part of the old Red Owl building at 108 West Helen Street into something colorful and cozy. Murals painted by kids in 1998 on two walls inside the LINK are still there: bright, young, and hopeful.
In 2020, Archambeau’s body just couldn’t take it anymore. By then the LINK had become much more than a youth center; it was also a food pantry, rescue center headquarters, a place to eat warm meals daily, and a group that hosted dances, parties, Christmas and Easter events, and an annual senior citizen appreciation meal. The LINK gives donated yarn to the Newberry Correctional Facility, and the inmates’ crocheted creations are given to the LINK to be shared with the community. The prison’s home-grown garden vegetables are also gifted to the LINK.
Any time she found a need, she found a way to meet it.
After her retirement, the LINK has quickly run through a few new directors before landing on Pam Juarez, the current director. Juarez is the mother of football star Marco Juarez, who is graduating from Newberry High School this Saturday.
Though COVID made the transition even more awkward, Juarez said youth still come to the center every day after school, and many other community members stop by daily, too.
“Not a day goes by when I’m not feeding someone,” Juarez said.
That’s an extra concern now, with summer looming. Kids who go to school are fed breakfast and lunch each day, but in the summer, they’ve got to rely on food in the home. For some kids, meals at home are scarce.
Foot traffic at the LINK picks up in the summer, Juarez said, and she serves two meals a day.
“Kids get there as early as I open,” she said. “Sometimes they’re waiting there before I arrive ten minutes early.”
Of all times for an eviction to happen, Juarez said, the summer is the worst. But that’s what the LINK is facing: They’ve been issued a letter from the Tahquamenon Area Senior Citizens (TASC) ordering them to leave the property by June 10, just days after school gets out.
When Juarez and her family moved to Newberry, they leaned on LINK resources while getting themselves established. Now settled, Marco’s graduation party will take place at the LINK on June 10 – but that’s also supposed to be the last day the LINK resides at its current location.
The TASC owns the building and have had a rent-free agreement with the LINK since its inception. The most current lease agreement is dated in 1998, Archambeau said, because after that, their terms were resolved with a handshake and a promise: As long as you’re doing something for the kids, you’ll pay no rent.
Though the LINK certainly is still working with the kids, the TASC issued them a letter in May requiring them to begin paying $750 per month in rent, plus a $1,000 deposit.
The LINK, with a savings account balance near $10,000, can’t afford that without community help, Juarez said. She spread a letter in the community to ask for donations, but an eviction letter from the TASC still stands.
The news shocked and upset Newberry resident Lois Michelin, who has supported the LINK for many years. Michelin sees the LINK as a vital place for people of all kinds, especially those who are underprivileged or struggling.
“I just find this whole situation very, very upsetting,” Michelin said. “It’s been such an essential program. And it’s a program that has become not just for kids, but a rescue program for everything that’s going on here.”
Peggy Dahn is a former TASC president and now sits on the LINK board. She says the senior center is now run more like a business, but the LINK has been largely unchanged.
During its years at 108 West Helen Street, staff at the LINK have saved lives – at least once preventing a teen suicide, and another time, finding an undressed toddler on the street next to the building during a snowstorm.
Archambeau knows the LINK needs younger adults to step in and help. Many days, Juarez is the only worker present at the center, and she manages, but would welcome help.
“We need parents of kids to come here and get involved,” Archambeau said.