Faith, Family, Community – Think it, Speak it, Live it!
Randy Middleton opens Beech Grove Our Place as a community center to bring back a small town, neighborly atmosphere
Reflect back on a time when everyone knew everyone in Beech Grove. They hung out after church or school events. They spent time socializing, face-to-face and not on Facebook. Randy Middleton hopes to bring some of that close-knit feeling back through Beech Grove Our Place Christian Community and Performing Arts Center which opened this month.
“We’re all on Facebook, we’re all talking digitally but we don’t go out and meet anybody,” he said. “(I want to) get back to the old community socialization that we used to have.”
Middleton works full time in IT at Perry Township Schools. He approached the congregation at Beech Grove United Methodist Church, where he serves as a lay leader, and pitched the idea of opening a community center in the building that the church moved out of five years ago. The building has been closed through that time, with exception of the thrift shop that was being run out of the basement. He received underwriting support from the church.
“I said I wanted to make it a community center, separate from the church,” Middleton said. “For the last two years, I’ve been trying to do outreach programs. We ran an outdoor theatre for four or five years, but you’re subject to the weather. Bringing it inside, it doesn’t matter the weather. You can do the community events indoors.”
The 10,000 square-feet, three-story building is a lot to maintain and needed a lot of work to cleanup. He enlisted the help of fellow church members and family members such as his sister, Karla Richardson, to help get the community center opened. Middleton’s first priority was to make the facility handicap accessible so everyone in the community can come. He installed a ramp into the lower floor of the building and an elevator from the basement to the second story. He began cleaning up the building, installing things such as projector screens where they could play movies and lighting. They opened Beech Grove Our Place for its first event, a Game and Movie night, on Jan. 8.
“We didn’t want to open until it was finished, but we started talking about some of the events we could do without having it finished and decided to open for those events,” he said. “We’re excited that we’re rolling, people are interested, and are saying nice things.”
Middleton said they hoped for 20 to 25 people for the first game and movie night. There were 63. That event will take place every Friday night with games at 6 p.m. and a movie at 7 p.m. The event is free and a concession stand is available with snacks for purchase.
“I was thrilled when I was working the concession stand and saw that every table was full with kids playing board games,” Richardson. “They were really sitting there playing games and enjoying themselves. To me, to see that our vision and hopes came true, that was neat. They could sit at home and play a game but this is different. They were socializing, meeting people you might not meet somewhere else.”
With ideas overflowing, Middleton said he’s open to hearing opinions from community members on what they would like to see happen in the center. He said they would like to put in a computer lab for tutoring, after school homework, mentoring, job searches and more. He would like to install curtains and theater lighting on the stage for them to host plays and musicals with a true theater experience. He would also like to upgrade the kitchen, making it more efficient. To accomplish all of that, he and Richardson said they need more volunteers and donations. He has also hired a grant writer to help earn funding for the community projects.
“There is so much more we think we can do for kids,” he said. “There are so many activities we have in mind. There’s only so much time, energy and money to go around.”
Middleton said his initial idea for the building was to make it a wedding venue, perfect for the do-it-yourself type of people who may want a church setting but don’t belong to a church. He said they will use money raised from events such as weddings and birthday parties to fund the other events and activities that will be open to the community. There is still work to do to have the building ready to use as a wedding venue, though they have booked their first wedding for July.
The last Saturday of each month will be a dinner and concert fundraiser, with dinner at 6 p.m. and a live band at 7 p.m. Middleton plays bass in the band Holy Aces which will perform on Jan. 30.
Jan. 30 will also be a craft fair with local vendors. Feb. 27 they will host a bridal show, which Richardson received tremendous interest from wedding vendors. March 26 will be Spring Into Summer, with homemade craft and direct sale vendors and a fashion show on the second floor.
“Seeing it actually open after a year of working on it, I’m most excited for the future,” Middleton said. “The response so far has been great.”
[Correction: telephone number is 317/222-4158]