BY DONNA RHODES
PLYMOUTH — The spirit of Christmas filled the Pemi Youth Center last Thursday evening, when members of the Plymouth Rotary stopped in to help celebrate the holidays with everyone who takes part in their after school programs.
“Our focus is to benefit children. Each year, we help with the party and the sharing of gifts because it’s important to our members to participate in all the giving and the joy,” said Rotary President Sharon Thorne. “It helps our membership reinforce what we do.”
Also joining them for the festivities were students of Plymouth State University and other community members.
As the party got underway, PYC Executive Director Jessica Dutille had a few words for all the children and teens who filled the room.
“This is to show you how important you are to me, and what you mean in my life, not just today but every day,” she told them. “This is also to show you how loved you all are in this community.”
Gifts for each and every one of them were provided through some special elves from PSU’s Angel Tree initiative, the Plymouth Rotarians and the staff of Meredith Village Savings Bank.
“We find out what they like or maybe what they need, and then shop for them all individually,” Rotary members said.
And as the presents swiftly piled up around the Christmas tree, the excitement also grew.
“What am I most excited about? Everything!” exclaimed nine-year-old Evan as he and his friends Ethan and Dominick looked around the crowded room.
Before the presents were unwrapped though, the Rotary invited everyone to listen or even join them in singing some holiday songs. They began with classics such as “Silent Night” and “Deck the Halls” before breaking into some fun tunes with “Jingle Bells” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
After calls for an encore from the boys and girls, they capped off their appearance with a heart-felt version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Besides caroling and opening their gifts, participants of PYC also enjoyed a special Christmas dinner that was prepared and served by the university’s Social Work Club.
Dr. Thad Guldbrandsen, Vice Provost for Research and Engagement for PSU, peeked in on the festivities, too, and was pleased to see his university students interacting with area youth in such a special way.
“I’m a big fan of both the Pemi Youth Center and Jess Dutille. We have a really important partnership with them that allows our students to develop, too,” Guldbrandsen said.
The program, he added, provides a great opportunity for everyone who touches it, including not only the elementary, middle and high school students, but college students and members of the community as well.
“When you leave here, you become a better person,” said Guldbrandsen.
Pemi Youth Center was established in 1999 by Glenda Toomey of Wentworth when she felt compelled to establish a warm and loving place for local boys and girls. Her goal was for them to feel at home at a centralized location where they would also have the opportunity to be themselves and grow.
Since the doors of PYC opened 15 years ago, children ages 10-17 have been gathering at the center on Main Street in Plymouth to socialize, take part in numerous activities and continue to learn outside their school environment.
“God put the vision for all of this in my heart. He’s the real founder of Pemi Youth Center; He just directed me to do the work,” she said. “There’s such a caring attitude here, and Jess is so tuned in to everyone’s needs, but all the praise for establishing it goes to God, and not me.”