Something to smile about

Family-friendly free comedy show Jan. 21 in new home for Ohio Valley Youth Network

COME HAVE A LAUGH — Bobbyjon Bauman, president of the Ohio Valley Youth Network, stands in front of what officially will be the OVYN’s new home, the Sycamore Center located at 301 N. Fourth St., Steubenville. It will be used as a youth and community center in Steubenville with after-school programming for area students he said. A free, family-friendly comedy show featuring Christian comedian Bob Smiley’s “Laugh All Night” comedy concert will be held there on Jan. 21, beginning at 6 p.m. It is open to the public. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — Bobbyjon Bauman, president of the Ohio Valley Youth Network, is all smiles.

And not just because the nonprofit is hosting a free comedy event Jan. 21.

The smiles are in part because of where the event is being held — in what is in the process of officially becoming the OVYN’s new home, a hub for many planned programs and activities as part of a Christian ministry.

The Sycamore Center is located at 301 N. Fourth St., its name derived from the Sycamore Tree Church that was last there since 2006 before recently relocating to Follansbee.

Christian comedian Bob Smiley’s “Laugh All Night” comedy concert there will be a free, family-friendly event that begins at 6 p.m. No tickets are needed. A free-will offering will be taken, according to Bauman.

“The love offering is for New Missions, which is not related to the Ohio Valley Youth Network,” Bauman explained. “That is related to the comedian. He is raising funds for them, but it is a free-will offering, and no one is required to give if they don’t have the funds,” he added.

Questions about the event can be directed to Bauman by phone or text to (608) 556-3068.

Bauman expressed enthusiasm about the availability and near-future obtaining of the downtown building.

“The Sycamore Center is in the process of being transferred over to the Ohio Valley Youth Network to be used as a youth and community center here in Steubenville with after-school programming for area students,” he said.

“If all goes well, we hope to open this September after renovating the facility this spring and summer,” he said.

“We are planning on having an arts academy opening involving acting, music lessons, vocal lessons, art lessons and dance lessons — all free of charge to students who cannot afford lessons,” Bauman continued. “We also will have a young entrepreneurship program and an Upward Sports program for students from the downtown area.”

Bauman explained he has leaders in place to run the programs.

“I am just waiting for the building to be officially in our hands before I launch any programming,” he said.

The Ohio Valley Youth Network is an alliance of church youth workers, educators and social agency leaders who work with youth, according to Bauman. “Members plan events and share ideas on ways we can improve the lives of local students through Biblical principles and the ‘faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3),” he noted in its mission statement.

Earlier this year, Bauman said he noticed the church sign announcing its relocation to Brooke County.

“I had been looking for a facility for a while for a youth center here in Steubenville, similar to the Weirton Christian Center, and I’d been in talks about opening one here with Kim Weaver (its executive director) for around a year, and I’ve been looking for space,” Bauman said.

After seeing the sign, Bauman said he made an immediate inquiry about it with the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of Urban Mission Ministries. She, in turn, referred him to the Rev. James Winkler, superintendent, Ohio Valley District, East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“I got in my car and drove to the district office in Wintersville, and I pitched the idea of what we were looking to do for a youth center and asked if the facility possibly would be available for that, and he (Winkler) thought it would be a great idea, and they might even be willing to deed the building over for free,” Bauman noted of what he said has been in the talking stages for about three months.

The building is owned by the United Methodist Church, Winkler explained. Deeding it over to the OVYN has gone through the UMC approval process, with Urban Mission given first right of refusal. A deed draft and transfer constitutes the final step, but during the interim, Winkler said he would ask the chancellor to draft a lease agreement to allow the network to start getting up and running.

That the building will have a new lease on life makes Winkler smile, too.

“We’re just really glad somebody can use it for Christian ministry in that neighborhood, and we’re excited about it,” Winkler said.

“We have been very pleased that there is a Christian ministry that wants to maintain a presence on that corner, being so close to the high school and close to the Urban Mission and having good connection with the ministry going on there. We are excited that that building will be used for that purpose, and the purpose of the Ohio Valley Youth Network is really pretty amazing,” Winkler said.

“They’re a model of ministry and even their business plan has caught our attention, so we are happy just to deed this building to them with minimal expectation of cost other than some costs that have been incurred that we’ll negotiate, but our intent is to process the deed and convey it to the Ohio Valley Youth Network,” Winkler said.

The building was erected in 1892 and has a sanctuary capable of accommodating approximately 300. In its history at the corner of Fourth and North streets, the building was Calvary United Methodist Church, a merger of First Church and Hamline. When Urban Mission was newly formed, it was located in Calvary Church.

Having the comedy concert there is a kind of “teaser preview of what’s to come,” Bauman said. “We don’t anticipate other events there for a little while. We may do some soft opening type of events in the summer possibly, but in terms of full programming, we’re looking to launch in late August or September when the 2018-19 school year starts,” he said.

Next up, though, is a fundraiser banquet related to the center. It will be held Feb. 22 at First Westminster Presbyterian Church, 235 N. Fourth St., beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will highlight ministry events of the past year and solicit funds for the ministry for 2018, according to Bauman.

It will feature performances by the last four winners of the Valley’s Got Talent competition — Elisha Fletcher, Jacqueline Shea, Savannah Grant and Brent Kimball — and the Place For Dance team that won the dance award at the Valley’s Got Talent in 2017.

The OVYN became an official nonprofit organization in August of 2016 and has been successful in bringing together churches and schools in the downtown and surrounding regions, according to Bauman.

“Multiple school districts have opened their doors wide. For example, every third Thursday of the month, five clergy meet with the high school and middle school principal and the superintendent of Steubenville City Schools to collaborate on ways that we can reach the youth of our community,” he explained.

Over the past four years, the Ohio Valley Youth Network has collaborated on several “encouraging initiatives,” according to Bauman. They include:

¯ “Sonshine” Bible Club: “Adults and older teens alone cannot change this region without reaching the hearts of the children,” Bauman noted. With this in mind, the OVYN started the Sonshine Bible Club, which serves up to 130 children in Steubenville and 75 in Wintersville. “This past year, the Steubenville schools assisted us by providing school bus transportation to the Sonshine Club,” he said.

“The Sonshine Club is part of a 10-year plan in which we now work intensely, in order to see the fruit of these labors when these children become young adults and begin to live out the Biblical principles they learned in the club.” The club is ecumenical in nature (the leaders must hold to the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds), which is a key component to redeeming the Ohio Valley, according to Bauman.

¯ Mentoring Initiatives: “Mentoring initiatives are taking off like wildfire, in collaboration with local schools, churches and the court system. The OVYN has been working with a number of agencies to see youth and children enter into mentoring relationships and programs,” he said.

¯ 3D Mentoring group: The OVYN was involved in starting the 3D Mentoring group, which is an after-school, Christian-based program, serving 40-70 middle school-aged students every week.

¯ Assembly Speakers: The OVYN has brought nationally renowned Christian speakers to local public school assemblies and churches. “Students were able to hear from powerful role models, such as Reggie Dabbs, (spoke to 6,000 students); Danielle Smoot, anti-drug speaker (750 students); MLB star Darryl Strawberry, (1,000 students); Maurice Clarett, (1,000 students); Enemy Opposition BMX/Skateboarding Team, (3,000 students); and WNBA basketball star Sylvia Crawley, (1,100 students),” he noted.

¯ All Valley Youth Rallies: The All Valley Youth Rallies are held in the Steubenville High School auditorium or the Fort Steuben Mall six times a year. The evening events feature inspirational speakers and local Christian talent, such as singers, bands and dance teams. The rallies usually draw around 250 youth and families.

¯ Character Education Instruction: Area clergy come in and teach character education classes at Harding Middle School.

¯ Back-to-School Bash and Concert: The OVYN participated with Urban Mission in giving away school supplies and backpacks to 1,500 students. The event closed with a concert involving local youth.

¯ Bridges Out of Poverty Event: The OVYN collaborated in the planning and execution of a poverty simulation event, which teaches young people what it is like to be poor. Participants learn to sympathize with the under-resourced and are encouraged to educate themselves. “We want our youth to choose a better path in life, so that in the future they can reach out to help those in need,” Bauman explained.

¯ Ohio Valley Youth Network Meetings: They are held on the first Monday of every month, bringing together church youth workers, social agency leaders and school representatives to discuss strategies for reaching youth. An average of 35 people attend. Each month one of the members gives a presentation about his or her youth program/social agency in the community.

¯ S.T.R.O.N.G.: The OVYN has been integrally involved in getting students to join the Jefferson County Youth Anti-Drug Coalition S.T.R.O.N.G., an acronym for Students Taking Responsibility for the Next Generation leadership group. The OVYN assists with reminders and transportation for youth to attend the bi-monthly meetings.

¯ Baccalaureate Service: The OVYN re-established the baccalaureate service, held at a local church for SHS graduates. “We have run it for the last three years,” Bauman said.

¯ The Valley’s Got Talent: Each fall, the Valley’s Got Talent showcases 20 top artists and groups, performing songs with Christian content and competing for $1,000 in prize money. It features local contestants, ranging in ages from 10-23, and attracted more than 600 attendees to Steubenville High School’s auditorium.

¯ Fellowship of Christian Athletes: The OVYN has promoted the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at SHS, Harding Middle School, Edison High School and Middle School, Toronto High School/Middle School, Indian Creek Middle School, Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, Oak Glen Middle and High schools and the Alternative School. The program assists around 350 teens to pray and study the Bible weekly, openly and legally, within the walls of public high schools, according to Bauman.

¯ iServe Day: The OVYN started the iServe day of service in collaboration with Urban Mission. Twice a year, 75- 100 students from church youth groups and school clubs help out in the community. “Youth can be seen fixing up, painting and cleaning up at the Urban Mission and other places around town that need a little TLC and might not otherwise get it,” Bauman said, noting the next iServe event will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 7 at the Urban Mission.

¯ Chastity Event: “We featured the top chastity speaker in the world, Pam Stenzel, who shared her message with the entire student body of Steubenville High School on Sept. 26 and at Harding Middle School on Sept. 27. She also spoke at an All Valley Youth Rally at Big Red,” Bauman said. She also spoke at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

¯ Socrates in the City: “This monthly luncheon lecture series features some of the top theologians and Christian thinkers in the area who will give presentations on an area of expertise that is relevant to today,” he added.

“In 2018, we are looking to launch Habitat for Humanity here in Steubenville and will involve the local football team in helping with the project,” Bauman said. “In the spring of 2018 we will have a youth Rising Stars Night in which the top young artists in the area will perform. Some 250 people came to a similar event last year. We will use this as a fundraiser for the Ohio Valley Youth Network,” he added.

“I’m looking to make this center a beacon of hope for our youth who will be able to use their God-given talents in a way that encourages them, as well as the surrounding community,” Bauman said.

“I’m planning on this becoming like the Weirton Christian Center that has been running for 100 years, reaching out to under-resourced youth in Weirton. I hope and pray that it will be around long after I’m gone.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at