Main Street in West Point is surprisingly active at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday nights, with a line of hungry people waiting outside the cerulean blue building in the middle of town.
They’re lined up for the popular Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families’ (BMCYF) Community Dinner—a hot, nutritious, made-from-scratch meal cooked fresh by BMCYF’s volunteer chef-in-residence.
For over 25 years, BMCYF has operated as a volunteer-led and donation-driven nonprofit, serving the population of West Point and its neighboring communities.
The bright blue building is a community hub. Colorful hand-painted murals and inspiring quotes cover the exterior, while inside walls are covered in art and hundreds of photos of local kids who have enjoyed the center’s choir, art classes and after-school programs over the years.
According to BMCYF’s Facebook page, the nonprofit “strive[s] to provide support and resources to grassroots initiatives that empower community members or respond to a need.”
BMCYF has responded to a myriad of needs over the years, offering art classes and play areas for children, parental support groups, senior brunches, yoga and Zumba fitness classes, art and music events, community gardens, local KQBM radio station programming, and the popular, free community dinners.
While Community Dinners have been a staple in the rural community for years, they have proved vital to many individuals and families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with as many as 60 meals served in one night.
Pre-Covid, the center opened its doors for the community to gather, socialize, and break bread. Now, dinner goers can eat at outdoor tables or take their meals to-go. Community members still socialize, but at a safe distance as they wait in line for their meals.
Meals are made with healthy, nutritious food, much of it coming from the BMCYF-managed West Point Community Garden just down the road.
The two-acre organic garden provides a relaxing retreat into nature, with several flower and vegetable growing areas including 12 raised beds, a rammed earth greenhouse, fruit trees, and community spaces like a gazebo and full-size bocce ball court.
This summer, the West Point Community Garden is also the location for Music in the Garden, a new BMCYF program consisting of alternating open mic events and showcase performances of local musicians and songwriters. These free concerts allow dozens to safely gather in the spacious garden, with attendees bringing their own picnics, blankets and chairs.
Resident artist, musician and longtime volunteer at BMCYF Nedra Russ organized the events as a way to bring musicians and community members back together after Covid caused many of the center’s indoor events to be cancelled.
The center has worked to keep kids and adults engaged with take-home activities, virtual classes and playgroups, as well as a collaborative mural with wooden puzzle pieces that anyone can take home and paint, then have their art added to the exterior wall of the center.
Music in the Garden is now bringing the community back together in person in a safe, fun, and creative way.
“It’s so positive.” Russ beams. “We’re so lucky that so many people are showing up to these... and it’s new faces, young people... little kids dancing.”
Russ has volunteered in numerous roles at BMCYF since 2008, including teaching art, choir and after school programs for kids, leading art groups for women, and hosting Open Mic. She hopes to resume programs and projects in person at the center as soon as it is safe to do so.
“We’re carrying it on in a limited capacity until we can get it back to what it used to be,” said Russ. “There is a need, and if we can safely fill that need, that’s how we’re going to do it. Safety first.”
Upcoming events at the BMCYF include a free Showcase concert with Brad Hoshaw on Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m., and Open Mic on Sept. 12 and Oct. 10 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.
The Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families is located at 64 Main Street in West Point. Follow BMCYF on Facebook and donate to BMCYF by visiting their website at bmcyf.org/donate.