By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PALMYRA Mo. -- Ron Kraft has been waiting for teenagers to put some graffiti on his building.
A red "open" sign glows in the former storefront at the corner of Main and Main Cross streets. Each day, it welcomes teenagers to the town's new youth center, The Main Hangout.
But Kraft wants kids to make this space their own. So he has enlisted a young artist to put graffiti on the teen center's sign. He also has created a youth board, in addition to an adult board, to keep the facility running. He has even asked a young computer wiz to serve as The Main Hangout's tech guy.
"We're trying to do something good for our community, and the kids for years have needed it," Kraft said.
Kraft began turning the old NAPA Auto Parts building at 110 West Main into "The Main Hangout" in December. He moved the rows of shelves filled with spark plugs, windshield wipers and floormats out to create space for a dance floor. The economy forced Kraft to shut down the auto parts store, but with the empty building and a bored 17-year-old son at home, he decided to turn his misfortune into something positive.
Several sofas ooze stuffing, but Kraft concealed the upholstery's wounds with couch covers. Two donated restaurant booths sit near the front door. A half-completed bandstand awaits for paint and music in the back room. Each day, Palmyra's youth funnel into the warehouse of mismatched furniture, arcade games and half-completed projects.
The hangout welcomes middle school and high school students from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. The building needs work, but the students are eager to take part in it and make it their home.
Jordan Holman, 17, invests his time and talents into Palmyra's new youth center daily.
"I'm willing to put every ounce of my free time into making sure this place stays running," Holman said.
Kraft has allowed Holman to help with the center's upkeep and improvement. The Main Hangout has created a place for Holman to go after school, and he intends to see it grow.
"Before I'd sit at home or hang out with the one friend I got where I live," Holman said. "Now I've got more friends, and I've got stuff to do after school."
The Main Hangout is cozy enough that the kids feel comfortable spilling a drink there, but they take enough pride in their space that they'll clean it up quickly. The hangout caters to students as young as fifth-graders, as well as those into their later high school years.
Isabel Lima, 13, said age differences and social cliques don't matter at The Main Hangout. The center has hosted as many as 25 youngsters in one afternoon, and Lima said typically everyone gets along.
"It's the place to be," Lima said. "Everyone's nice to each other, and there's no fights."
Kraft and other adult volunteers maintain a stream of supervision. Eventually, he hopes to implement a security system so he can monitor the entire building at once.
But the center's kids aren't looking to cause trouble, they're just looking for someplace to go. Kraft explained several of them don't have a stable home environment, and The Main Hangout has helped fill that void. The regulars have claimed their favorite couches and befriended Kraft's dogs, Lucy and Chloe. The teens have dubbed the two pooches the hangout's mascots.
"We've had kids come here and they'll lay down and fall asleep on the couches," Kraft said. "This give them that homey atmosphere, and I think some of them don't really have a home."
Still, that home needs funding and materials. The adult board seeks grants, donations and maintains a partnership with the center's fiscal agent, Families and Communities Together in Hannibal.
Kraft's son, Bryce, serves as president of the youth board, which plans events and activities. While the students can use the center free of charge, Kraft does plan to charge a small fee for concerts, dances and special parties. The youth board has already planned for separate middle school- and high school-age Valentine's Day dances, as well as for a breakfast social for students and their moms near Mother's Day.
"We're trying to keep everything as reasonable as we can, some of the kids don't have money," Kraft said.
There will be an open house at The Main Hangout from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.