Prairieland Youth Center is place for youth to be

MONTEVIDEO -- It was October when Susan Campion and a group of parents in Montevideo took on the oft-heard lament of young people in rural communities: "There's nothing to do.''...

MONTEVIDEO -- It was October when Susan Campion and a group of parents in Montevideo took on the oft-heard lament of young people in rural communities: "There's nothing to do.''

There is a lot to do at the Prairieland Youth Center that they opened in the community's former armory. A full-sized gymnasium and 300 pairs of roller skates make possible weekly skating parties. Skateboarders are welcome too.

There are pizza parties and pickup basketball games. There might soon be Saturday night dances, guitar hero events and dodgeball tournaments.

During the day, there is a play center where parents can bring their young children and a lounge where the adults can relax and visit.

And always, "it's just kind of a place to be,'' said Campion. Young people are welcome to drop in during after-school hours on weekdays or Saturdays, and it's not just for those who happen to live in Montevideo.


More than anything else, Campion and a 10-member board of directors for the nonprofit center want to make it a regional center for youth. They've been in contact with parent and school groups in area communities, from Milan to Clara City and Granite Falls to Sacred Heart. They are discussing ways to make the center available to a larger, regional audience.

"Everybody says this is needed,'' Campion said.

Now she's trying to see if it can be supported.

Campion said she has been hearing lots of verbal support for the center, but it takes more than words of encouragement to keep it going. She receives no compensation despite putting in more than a full-time schedule. The center has been relying on donations, nominal fees and the kindness of the center's landlord. Building owner Denny Larson has not charged the center for use of the building, although the nonprofit group has set a goal of paying for its share of upkeep and utility costs.

The center charges $2 for open gym and $5 for a night of skating. Campion wants to keep the fees low, and establish a monthly or annual pass, so that young people know they are always welcome. Youths also earn PYC "bucks'' for admission by helping out at the center.

But longer term, Campion said they need to establish a sustainable base of support.

They are looking at whether a mix of businesses, churches, civic groups and individuals would take on the responsibility of supporting the center. They are also looking for grant funds, while also hoping to build partnerships with social services and other organizations.

Campion grew up in the Twin Cities, owned a home in Northeast Minneapolis and worked as a social worker in Hennepin County.


Two years ago, she adopted three children and followed a close friend to Montevideo. She wanted to live in a community where her children -- ages 10, 11 and 12 -- could hop on their bicycles and ride across town without fear for their safety.

She found exactly that in Montevideo, but Campion said she also discovered that rural communities lack something that youth in Minneapolis find very important. The city offers recreational centers where youth can safely get together and meet others.

Ever since, she's been working to provide that opportunity at the Prairieland Youth Center.

And, it's not just youth who benefit. Kim Feldhake is the mother of young children. She and another mother come to the center to walk around the gym for exercise while their children burn off some of their own energy at the facility.

"They have a good time playing,'' said Feldhake, adding that she and her friend have just as much fun being able to visit and walk indoors on harsh, winter days. "It's a great place,'' she said.

Montevideo and other communities have to work together to make something like this possible, said Campion. No single town has the resources or the numbers of youth to make it happen on their own. Nor should they want to isolate their youth from the advantages that can come when youths from a larger region can meet one another.

Ultimately, what the communities can offer their youth will determine whether they decide to live as adults in rural Minnesota. "We need to support this as a region,'' she said. "If we're going to survive we need to think bigger.''

The Prairieland Youth Center is located at 802 N. Second St. near the municipal pool and Windom Park in Montevideo. Calls are welcome at 320-269-8283 or e-mail

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