The organization was formed by Terry and Brenda Hunka in 2004 as a mission trip provider. It soon grew to more than that with the building of two orphanages in Peru and a school in Ecuador. Now they’ve decided to bring their work home.
“We have mainly been an international ministry for our first eight years of existence, but we became convinced that we weren’t doing enough for ‘the children in our own backyard’ and began searching for how we should get more involved,” Terry Hunka said. “To really understand the needs of a particular area, it is my belief that you have to become a permanent fixture in that area. We began searching for a way to do that when we discovered all the empty school buildings in Canton.”
In 2011, the city of Canton acquired the Martin building from Canton City Schools. The city conveyed the Martin site to the Canton Community Improvement Corp., which sold the property to ChildReach for $1 plus any costs associated with the transfer of ownership.
Upon the ownership transfer to ChildReach, all city and accessibility requirements needed to be met to obtain an occupancy permit. The school had been “grandfathered” through those updates because ownership remained the same. A local architect submitted a quote of $750,000 to renovate and bring the building up to code. Hunka said the organization has been able to complete many of the tasks through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations so far.
“Our mission is to advocate for teenagers and young adults on the margins of society,” Hunka said. “We will do this through various programs open to all.”
When it opens, hopefully this month, the Martin Center will offer basketball, volleyball, a game room and game center, plus several other activities for Stark County youth. The center also will offer classes for adults ranging from dance to nutrition to auto maintenance.
The mission of ChildReach is to help youths between the ages of 12 and 19. Hunka expects that the new facility in Canton will give the organization a place to do that.
“Most of the money raised for operations will come from donations and grants from individuals, churches, corporations and sponsorships of the various programs,” Hunka said, noting that any proceeds from food or events there will go back to the center. “We (at ChildReach) have been working with children in poverty for eight years now and want to impact children and families in our own backyard of Canton.”
The first floor of the building primarily will be used for adult education and a full-service community center for teens. The second floor will house a dance/karate studio and offices for ministries or other organizations.
WHO: ChildReach Ministries is opening the Martin Center, a community/youth center at 1253 Third St. SE in Canton. Terry and Brenda Hunka, founders.
WHAT: The Martin Center is a 95-year-old former elementary school building. ChildReach Ministries is renovating the building to serve as a community center.
WHEN: Opening date for the Martin Center has not been set yet but likely will be this month.
WHY: To advocate for under-served teenagers and young adults.