Local Treasures with Pia: Cornerstone Teen Center is a home away from home

Nez Perce, Idaho – When Mark and Shiloh Hand built a house here in 2009, the last thing on their minds was the creation of a teen center.

Then Mark Hand retired from the Marine Corps in 2016, and the couple and their four children moved to Nez Perce full time.

As they settled into rural life, they realized that some local students traveled 10 or 15 miles to school, and if they didn’t have their own transportation they had no place to stay in town and wait for an evening football game.

“When we moved here, we both got on the substitute teacher list at the school,” Mark Hand said. “And when you are a sub, the kids share everything with you. We learned a lot about this community that way.”

In 2018, the couple bought an old ambulance garage and that’s where they have created Cornerstone Teen Center, which recently receive a grant from the Avista Foundation.

“We wanted to create a space where the kids can just chill and hang out,” Mark Hand said. “Some do homework, some stare at their phones and some play foosball upstairs.”

Mark Hand said restoring the building turned into a little bit of a community project. Volunteers from neighboring Grangeville showed up to help, as did neighbors. Mark Hand went to work writing grants right away.

“I am so grateful for the free labor we got from dudes just helping out,” Mark Hand said. “It’s very hard to get grant money that can be spent for buildings.”

Modeled after a USO Airport Lounge, which provides a spot of military to hang out at airports, including free snacks, coffee and comfy places to take a nap, Cornerstone Teen Center is an uncomplicated place for teens to get a break.

Mark Hand said Cornerstone is built around the kitchen which holds a huge, new gas range. He jokes that the range cost almost as much as the building.

“In a traditional kitchen there is so much more going on than food prep,” Mark Hand said. “Stories are being told, relationships built, you wash dishes, you share, you eat. That’s what we want Cornerstone to be – a place just like that.”

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Visit cornerstoneteen.org for more information.

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