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The Chillicothe Voice

IN THE SPOTLIGHT - The Crossword Cafe

Jul 26, 2023 10:57AM ● By Sherry Killion Adams

Have you ever seen or walked past a storefront in your hometown, read the name, and wondered what went on inside? Crossword Cafe may be one of those places that you’ve seen but don’t know much about. Here’s the story...

When Brent Ressler came to Chillicothe to take the job of youth pastor at Chillicothe Bible Church he saw a need for a place for kids to come and gather, talk, and hang out. Not only church kids but kids from all walks of life. Brent first began having kids over in the basement of his house on Sunday nights. When his basement was full, they began meeting at Fedora’s Pizza. There they would have pizza, talk, and sometimes have karaoke. So many kids began coming they needed a larger venue. Individuals from the community found a building on 2nd Street, negotiated the rent, remodeled, and moved. In 2001 the Crossword Cafe was born. 

Enter John and Chis Heffron. John and Chris have been directors of the cafe on 2nd Street since it’s inception. John is from Peoria and graduated from Peoria High in 1961. From there he attended U of I and then went on to work for Caterpillar as an application Engineer, retiring after 39 years. Chris grew up in Smithville, graduated from Farmington High, and worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Peoria. They met when Chris’ youth pastor introduced them and soon after they were involved in the founding of a Christian youth coffee house, called, The Son Coffee House in Farmington. They were married in 1975, and built a house in rural Edelstein. They had four children—Aaron, Matt, Nathan, and Sara and have five grandkids.

In 1976 John and Chris continued youth ministry as youth leaders at the 1st Baptist Church in Sparland and later in 1989 at the Chillicothe Bible Church. When looking for a director for the café, John and Chris were the perfect choice— they had a heart for youth.

The Cafe is a faith-based center for kids from sixth grade through high school and from all walks of life to come and hang out. A safe place to be able to talk to someone without judgment. The kids find that the staff really cares about them and shows them unconditional love. Friendships, trusts, and bonds are established. Cafe rules include: no foul language, no bullying, and to be respectful of everyone. Those not following the rules are warned, and possibly asked to leave.

Some of the activities they offer are; billiards, ping pong, tutoring, guitar, banjo, drum, piano, and computer lessons. They also have art lessons resulting in the making of beautiful art projects.

In the past years there have been concerts with over 200 bands that have played, all signing their names on the stage wall. At the cafe, there are volunteer discussion groups with various topics discussed, including faith-based ones. Sometimes the youths play board games or put puzzles together and talk. Everything at the Cafe; games, furniture, kitchen supplies, computers, musical instruments, and equipment have been donated.

Funding of the Cafe is done through sponsors—the main one being Helping Hands Resale Shop that gives a portion of their funds monthly to the Cafe. Other sponsors include: Chillicothe Bible Church, Chillicothe Christian Church, and the Methodist Church. The Cafe is non-profit and individual donations are always welcome.

The Cafe is open Tuesday through Thursday from 3–5  and also Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6–8 pm. There are always free snacks available and during the evening times, a light meal is offered.

The Cafe has started a post-high school group on Mondays nights from 6–8:30pm for young adults. On that night they ask questions, have discussion groups, and may learn life skills such as; balancing a checkbook, taxes, credit scores, etc.

All volunteer staff members are screened and background checks are done before they can start volunteering. More volunteers are needed and training is provided. The Cafe is guided by a board of directors.

For the last 3 years, the Cafe has granted a $1000 scholarship at the awards night at IVC. This scholarship is given to a student that has attended the Cafe. The scholarship is also renewable for an additional $1000 if the student stays in school and attains at least a 2.0 grade average.

In addition to the Cafe open times, events are being planned, such as a back-to-school bash, nerf gun wars, and a Halloween party.

Stop in the Cafe and see what is going on. Talk to the staff and ask questions. Volunteers are always needed in helping kids maneuver life—in this day and age it is harder than ever for them. In working with children the reward is knowing you have made a difference in their lives. Thank you John and Chris for stepping up.