Mark Anderson made a decision at his son’s wake.
Austin, 17, had died in a car crash in which a friend also lost her life.
Mark looked around at his son’s friends, who had come to pay their respects, and thought about how much he wanted kids in his community to have a place where they felt connected, and heard, and celebrated.
He would build that place.
Lindsey Messina, a recent college graduate, embraced the idea and worked alongside him.
They dug in, learned, enlisted a board of directors and a corps of volunteers.
Mark reached out to a church in Brentwood, which had a school and gym standing empty, and set about converting them into the Austin17 House. Lindsey became its director.
Now, on a weeknight, a volunteer is cooking chili for 50. Kids are shooting hoops and playing foosball. The karaoke machine creates a mighty din. There are rooms for art and SAT prep and video production and music and 4-H. The Lions Club built the kitchen. The Cub Scouts are planning a trail out back. The American Legion has helped raise money. Wednesdays are for middle- and high-schoolers,
Fridays for families, Sunday is community casserole night.
The plan is to make Austin17 House a daily afterschool program. Anderson is working with others already looking to replicate the effort.
“Lindsey was an aesthetician, I am a mechanic,” Mark said. “We’d no idea what we were doing. We’re just ordinary people.”
Ordinary people who figured out how to create something good from tragedy.