Mitchell Cheatham invested more than his money into the old Brazil Junior High School when he purchased the building three years ago. He put his heart and soul into creating a place that could give something to community members of all ages.
The spacious school building, 202 N. Washington St., was an opportunity for Cheatham to offer this area something he feels is important in today's world: a choice.
"Unfortunately, there's nothing else in the town to do," Carl Lawrence, the facility's security guard pointed out. Cheatham quickly agreed with Lawrence.
"They took the skating rink down and now there's just a movie theater," Cheatham said.
Actually, 'It's your choice' is the motto of the Sonshine Community Center. Cheatham pointed up to a banner, with red lettering, reading 'It's your choice' hanging in the gymnasium. The reminder sums up the facilities rules of no illegal substances, cussing, fighting, etc. He respects the center's patrons, and expects the same in return.
"It's your choice -- in other words, if you don't follow the rules, you're out," he said, crossing his arms.
Cheatham said he's only had one instance where teens became angry at his zero-tolerance policy, when a couple of them got escorted out for smoking on the grounds. The next day he discovered some busted out windows on the building and assumes the two incidences are related.
"I always wanted to help kids," said the father of 12 and grandfather of 36. "It's important to give them something to do to keep them off the street and out of trouble."
Cheatham's own personal touch sets the Sonshine Community Center apart from others of its kind.
"You gotta like people," he said, explaining his commitment to the center. "You have to understand where they're coming from, especially when they have so many other spirits to deal with."
Many of the patrons and volunteers at the center think of Cheatham, a pastor for over 50 years, as a friend. He stresses he isn't a licensed counselor, but many seek the wisdom he's gained just by his life experiences. A widower, he finds himself oftentimes giving marital advise. Other times, younger patrons trust him with their issues, such as dating and drinking. All he can hope for, he says, is to guide them the right way when they ask him what he thinks.
The 72-year-old Reelsville resident saw great recreational possibilities for both the young and old alike throughout the long-standing building. Built in the 1920s, all but the gymnasium was destroyed by fire in the 1940s and was rebuilt and last used as a school in the late 1980s.
Center volunteer Judy Trammel enjoys working with visitors at the center. She said her life has changed for the better since meeting Cheatham.
"He's a good person. He works hard and helps a lot of people," Trammel said. "I think, together, we can do a lot to help others."
From Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, party and craft rooms, a banquet room and the popular youth Fun Night, the old school has a function going on most nights each week. Funeral memorial dinners are a common use of the facility. The gym can be rented for personal parties for $30 per hour, and that includes access to a party room and a variety of activities, including a ping pong, fooseball and a pool table. But Cheatham said basketball is the biggest attraction.
"We have basketball practically every night, it's booked all the way up until April," he said, adding a popular team from Terre Haute, Venom, has chosen the gym as their home court. The Brazil YMCA also uses the gym. Tuesday night is open gym night from 6 to 8 p.m. Another popular attraction is Cross Road Wrestling on Sunday nights. Cost to attend is $6 per person. The 1,500 person capacity gym is nearly filled for the basketball and wrestling nights.
"They really put you on a show," he said about the wrestlers.
Concerts and plays are popular in the building's auditorium, which holds 200. Cheatham said the auditorium is used often for fundraisers.
Talks are underway to plan for a summer basketball camp with retired pro players. Also, in the summers, a retired teacher offers free tutoring for math and reading from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the week.
Eventually, Cheatham said he'd like to see the volunteer-run facility opened for family and class reunions. Another goal he has for the building is to make it more handicapped accessible. By adding an elevator, handicapped individuals could access all three floors in the building. He'd also like to see the building open for longer hours and offer computer classes, licensed counseling services and Spanish classes.
A big hit with kids of all ages is Fun Night. Every Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., the children get the run of the building for $3. They have access to the snack bar, where they can purchase a variety of goodies including pop, pizza, pretzels, hot dogs, chips, candy bars and fruit roll ups. Fun Night keeps the children attending entertained, something Cheatham thinks is the most important thing he can do to keep them on the right path.
"I never got bored a day in my life," Cheatham said. "Kids are different theses days."
The Sonshine Community Center accepts donations. For more information on donating to the center or for information about its activities, call (812)448-8056.