A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT: A new community center is opening in Knightstown


Kelly Hall, left, and John Davis are senior directors and founders of The Cary Center, a community center in neighboring Knightstown. The Cary Center, which will be renovated from a baptist church, will be available for the public in Henry and Hancock Counties. Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.

(Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

KNIGHTSTOWN — A former church in Knightstown is being converted into a community center to help those in need.

The Knightstown Community Education and Law Enforcement Foundation is in the process of buying the former church at 212 East Jackson St.

The hope is to use the building to provide a hangout for youth, community events, free meals and counseling for those in Knightstown and surrounding communities, including Hancock County.

The facility — now known as the Cary Center — will also be rented out for events, creating a revenue stream to sustain programming.

The center’s assistant director, John Davis, can relate to those who might need a helping hand.

Having grown up as an orphan in poverty, he knows that life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Davis, now chief of the Carthage Police Department and a sergeant for the Knightstown Police Department, can recall when police officers would take the time to stop and play with him and other kids when he was young.

He’s looking forward to paying it forward to those in his own community.

“Our town is great, but it’s not impervious to problems,” he said. “A lot of kids are doing some bad stuff. We’re going to help them find other alternatives.”

The new community center will serve as a place for young people to hang out after school, providing ways to socialize and connect in a welcoming environment.

Volunteers also plan to serve meals and snacks.

“For some kids, their only opportunity to eat every day is at school,” said Davis, who said the center could be open to youth in as little as three weeks.

A couple of nonprofits are already using the building, including Brianna’s Hope, which hosts weekly recovery meetings there.

The 6,500-square-foot building has had all the pews removed, leaving plenty of room for all sorts of programming.

The foundation is accepting donations to help with the cost of renovations. An anonymous donation of $50,000 was received last month.

“We’re going to try to make this facility into whatever the community needs,” said Kelly Hall, who serves as the center’s executive director.

A lot of people have already reached out to help with the remodeling and programming, said Davis.

He and Hall first joined forces in 2019 when they founded the Knightstown Community Education and Law Enforcement Foundation, of which Hall is board president and Davis is vice-president.

The plan to convert the former church into a community center was hatched about five months ago, they said.

“There are a lot of people behind the scenes who have made it happen,” said Davis, who believes the new center will allow them to better serve the community.

Local police are always looking for ways to help out those in need, he said, whether it’s helping feed a family or finding shelter for a transient person. The Knightstown Police Department even oversees a furnished apartment for people to use on a short-term basis.

Hall, a fellow community advocate and longtime Knightstown resident, is excited about how the new center will broaden the ability to serve the community.

Hall works as a nurse at Knightstown Intermediate School and is the community outreach coordinator for the CABEARD Memorial School Corporation.

Last year she helped other community servants develop a free boutique — called Stacy’s Sharing Closet — to connect kids in need with clothing, accessories and food.

“I’ve always had a servant’s heart, so wanting to turn this church into a community center was really a no-brainer,” she said.

Davis said the center is named after Waitsell M. Cary, who founded Knightstown after bringing a man named Johnathan Knight in to plot and map out the town.

“It was Mr. Cary who envisioned what would become Knightstown. Kelly and I found and asked (his) family how they felt about us naming the community center after him, and they loved the idea,” Davis said.