Volunteer hopes center will help at-risk youths
By Gary Popp
Published in News on May 9, 2011 1:46 PM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Patrick Lechner hopes to set up a group dedicated to helping local at-risk youths.
Patrick Lechner believes if he can provide better options for Goldsboro's troubled youths, they can create better futures for themselves.
After years of spreading Christian messages in Goldsboro's often marginalized communities, Lechner is taking steps to start his own organization, His Image Youth Center Inc., to provide a physical place for young people to receive scholastic, fitness and spiritual mentoring.
Born in the Philippines, Lechner came to the United States as a 6-year-old, living in Michigan, Florida and Tennessee before moving to Goldsboro in his early teens.
Growing up in Wayne County, he spent much of his life in low-income housing.
As a young man, Lechner lived a life not often associated with ministry work.
"I used to drink and smoke, throw dice and play cards," Lechner said of his early years.
Now Lechner, a city of Goldsboro employee, is returning to the housing communities, not with self-destructive habits, but Christian principles.
The 31-year-old Lechner said his experiences in Goldsboro serve as an asset in his passionate pursuit to help others help themselves.
"I am comfortable with them because I used to be where they are," Lechner said
Since 2008, Lechner has gone into Goldsboro's public housing communities to reach out to young people. He often arrives behind the wheel of the church van that he drives for Goldsboro Worship Center on New Hope Road.
Lechner picks up children, sometimes twice a week, from area housing projects and takes them to church services.
He said his evolution to a life centered on ministerial work has come with doubts from others.
"A lot of people were skeptical of me, as far as me giving my life to Christ as the type of person I used to be," Lechner said.
Lechner has gained the respect and trust of others by building on old relationships with friends in the housing communities and creating new bonds with younger generations.
He wants to take his service to the community a step further through founding His Image Youth Center.
"I want kids to be able to come and get help with their schoolwork and receive Bible study," he said.
He also envisions a space for young people to exercise and receive boxing instruction.
The societal issues that Lechner hopes to influence locally include obesity, teen pregnancy and gang culture.
Lechner stressed the importance of relationships and communication in his future outreach program.
"It is all about relationship building," he said. "We work with not just the kid, but the family, the community and the police."
Lechner said he has already provided services for children who have been banned from other churches and plans to make unconditional acceptance of young people a cornerstone of his organization.
"We give them opportunity. We give the choices. We don't give up on them when they continue to make bad decisions," Lechner said. "God never kicked me out because I misbehaved."
He said he looks to God to draw tolerance.
"I really don't find a problem so much with the people or the kids. Christ taught me what he saw in people. He saw something worth dying for," Lechner said.
Lechner said he is inspired by his belief that God never excludes.
"That is what motivates me. That is what guides me," Lechner said.