LEWISBURG — High Rocks Educational Corporation executive director Sarah Riley believes that The Hub might just be this town's best-kept secret, and she's determined to change that as quickly as possible.
A spacious student cafe located in the heart of Lewisburg, The Hub is a High Rocks program that has quietly found its niche during its first 14 months of operation, offering games, a computer lab, free Wi-Fi, homework support, classes, programs, a smoothie bar and live music, as well as Friday night karaoke.
While the after-school cafe's clientele is not age-restricted, Riley emphasizes that "it's not free daycare" either. "Middle school and high school students are our target," she says. "I tell parents, if your kids are ready to navigate Lewisburg on their own, send them on over to us."
Riley notes that some older students have also found The Hub to be a welcoming spot, as students from both New River Community and Technical College and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine are among the more than 200 students who have frequented the establishment.
"We have free popcorn and peanut and jelly sandwiches," she shrugs. "This is their house."
Reinforcing The Hub's identity as a homelike safe haven, Riley says that, upon entering the cafe, every teen is greeted by a grownup and asked three questions: "How was your day? Are you hungry? Do you have any homework?"
For hungry or thirsty patrons, the student cafe features a modest selection of sandwiches, along with milkshakes, smoothies, soft drinks, ice cream and free popcorn, topped with a seasoning mix created by the teenagers who work at The Hub's snack bar. Those teens — called "our baristas" by Tristan Nutter, High Rocks' AmeriCorps service member — also helped select the flavors for the smoothies that are the cafe's newest offering.
Food and nutrition coordinator Adrienne Cedarleaf, an experienced cook, developed the snack bar's menu, which now includes a selection of house-made sodas in flavors like cranberry, ginger and peppermint, thanks to a new soda stream machine.
Cedarleaf is an alumna of the High Rocks program and one of its most enthusiastic supporters, saying, "It definitely made me feel very welcome and comfortable with myself and in my skills and what I'm able to do. I appreciate the fact they've given me confidence to come back to the community I grew up in and be successful and make a difference."
Nutter notes that the teens who work in The Hub gain a "realistic idea" of just what work entails. "This is their first real-life job experience," she says. "They get a feeling of accomplishment — and a paycheck."
Mentoring the girls who work at the student cafe is important to Nutter.
"I'm trying to encourage them to be creative in the workplace," she says "We want to teach them to be accepted for who they are, to give them the tools to succeed."
The aim of Wednesday's grand opening, Riley says, was to draw attention to The Hub and the programs available at the student cafe. "We want more students to come in and enjoy what The Hub has to offer, and for the community to better understand what we're doing here," she says.
High Rocks also welcomes financial contributions toward The Hub's operating costs. Riley points out that the nonprofit has West Virginia NIP (Neighborhood Investment Program) tax credits available for donations of $500 or more.
In addition to hosting special events like birthday parties and school group/team celebrations on weekends, The Hub is open to students from 4-8 p.m., Monday through Friday. It is located in the walk-out basement level of the log lodge that used to be part of the Ft. Savannah Inn. The upper level, which faces busy U.S. Route 219 (North Jefferson Street), is occupied by Hill and Holler Bikes and Bites.