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Thursday: The Center returns to its Joliet roots

Incorporated in 2013, The Center has one mission: to help teens connect with God.
Incorporated in 2013, The Center has one mission: to help teens connect with God.

JOLIET – It was a Holy Spirit moment.

Dale Ambler, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Joliet, was in a meeting with the church’s senior pastor, Craig Herr, a church elder named Bob Herrick and Kelly Corcoran and Rick Abbott, board members of The Center.

In preparation for the Slammers first faith night in August, which The Center hosted, Corcoran and Abbott were seeking support from First Presbyterian. When they mentioned The Center was losing its meeting space, Ambler said he, Herr and Herrick all looked at each other, thinking the same thing: “This is what the church is about. How can we make this happen?”

“I believe God’s hand was in this one,” Ambler said.

Thursday, The Center officially returns to its Joliet roots when it hosts its first meeting – rent-free, Ambler said – at the First Presbyterian Church in Joliet, despite the fact the church has its own youth group that meets on Sunday evenings, Ambler said.

“Incredible things are going to happen,” Ambler said.

Incorporated in 2013, The Center has one mission: to help teens connect with God, so they can experience the life Jesus promised to everyone in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

“We’re giving them this idea of the abundant life, that they don’t have to just survive, that there’s an abundant life to be lived,” Corcoran said. “We try to always speak life and truth and hope to our kids.”

Features at the weekly Thursday meetings include free food, games, hang time, music and inspirational talk for teens. Except for its first couple meetings, The Center had met at The Hub in New Lenox.

So where are its Joliet roots? In the ministry of Harv Russell (deceased), founder of the former Christian Youth Center in Joliet, which served area youth for more than 50 years before it closed in 2013.

When it did, Corcoran, Abbott and Wayne Downen, all mentored by Russell and alumni of the CYC, formed a board of directors with Lori Ferry, another CYC alumna, later joining the board, according to The Center website. The other two board members are David Hill and Kim Dockus.

According to a news release from The Center, the teens who attend often come from broken homes and challenging life situations. This faith-based organization desires to meet their needs by:

• Providing an inviting, loving and safe environment with no judgment 

• Creating a family atmosphere where teens belong

• Feeding them physically, emotionally and spiritually

• Empowering them to be leaders with servant hearts

Service projects include participating in:

• Joliet Cares

• Singing at nursing homes during the holidays

• Feeding the homeless in Joliet and Chicago

• Packing events for Feed My Starving Children

• Prayer walks to pray with people in the community and for the community



WHAT: The Center

WHEN: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays

WHERE: First Presbyterian Church, 805 Western Ave., Joliet

ETC: The Center also offers a summer camp in July to Expeditions Unlimited in Baraboo, Wisconsin and a lock-in during the winter. A variety of volunteer positions for adults are available.

CONTACT: Call 815-474-2569, email or visit or



The Center has its roots and spirit in the former Christian Youth Center in Joliet, which closed in 2013. Here is a timeline of CYC’s history, according to former Herald-News stories:

•  March 11, 1947 – Moody Bible student Harv Russel hosts the first Hi Crusaders group in Joliet. This was an independent youth program with individual clubs throughout the Chicago area. Twenty-two youth came to the meeting, held in a back room of the old Ridgewood Baptist Church, the corner of Brown and Leech in Joliet.

• 1956 – Now 100 members strong, the Joliet Hi-C hosts a summer teen camp in Shorewood and a basketball team. Meets are held in places such as the Joliet Public Library, upstairs in the old Mode theatre in downtown Joliet and the Salvation Army hall.

• 1957 – When Russell begins overseeing some 60 other Hi Crusaders Clubs in the Chicago area, Chuck Miller, then a Chicago area Hi Crusaders leader and youth director at Faith Bible Church in Joliet, takes Russell’s place. Miller gives rents a storefront on Cass Street, near Joliet Central High School, giving the ministry its first home.

• 1961 – Russell returns after Miller leaves for another position.

• 1961 to 2009 – CYC eventually moves to its permanent home: 20 acres on Manhattan Road in Joliet. Through the year, it offers weekly meetings, retreats, day camps, (where teens served as student leaders); faith-based sports programs and a live school broadcast on WJOL, which lasted over 19 years. By the time CYC celebrated 50 years in 2007, Russell was director emeritus and Rollie Lindstrom was executive director.

• 2009 – CYC, under executive director Brian Allen, changes its ministerial format to one-on-one Christian mentoring

• 2012 – Russell dies.

• 2013 – The Christian Youth Center property is sold. The Center incorporates and begins meeting at Ridgewood Baptist Church. A few months later, The Center moves to The Hub in New Lenox.

• 2017 – The Center begins meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Joliet.

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