Center for Champions of PA was incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization in 1998. It was co-founded by Denise Wendle and Bonnie Lonski to address the many needs of the Harrisburg inner-city community. CFC originally started with the low-income project housing areas that were located near CFC’s original location at 941 S. 13th St. CFC first met in the Life Center Ministries Church building. Life Center and another local church, Christ Community Church of Camp Hill, were instrumental in CFC’s start. However, CFC is not a church or a program of any one church or any one denomination. CFC is a nonprofit faith-based organization. CFC desires to be an avenue where many churches, groups and businesses can partner with us to reach out to the hurting in the city, primarily the fatherless.
At CFC’s start, it was clear that there was a need for a more consistent approach to helping inner city families than a once per week Sunday School approach. Denise and Bonnie visited a motivational speaker, minister and former pro-basketball player named Wayne Robinson. Mr. Robinson had a youth after-school program in North Carolina. He gave Denise and Bonnie the encouragement needed and allowed them to use a name similar to his program: Center for Champions. Legally, CFC is Center for Champions of PA. As CFC developed, Youth and Family Mentoring was added as well.
CFC started with an after school program for children in elementary school. Originally, CFC met twice a week with about 17 kids.
At about the same time in 1998, a man named Eric Brenize was reaching out to inner-city youth through his volunteer work with a program called Sports Integrity started by Charlie Fortney and David Marshall. Eric was also the youth pastor at New Creation Community Church. He started volunteering at Center for Champions and joined as part time staff in 1999. Eric was with CFC until 2005 when he and his family moved to Illinois.
In the fall of 2000, CFC needed a different place in the inner city to meet. Rev. Tom Springman of Steven Memorial United Methodist Church and the church members allowed CFC to use many rooms in the building located at 13th and Vernon St. in South Allison Hill, a very needy area of Harrisburg. This contribution made it possible for CFC to expand and serve many more youth, and parents. In the fall of 2003, Eric Brenize became the full-time Director of the Center.
As time went on, Steven Memorial Church closed and Center for Champions needed a new location. CFC moved to Second City Church on the corner of Verbeke and Green Street in midtown Harrisburg.
In 2014, Denise Wendle resigned as Executive Director and passed the torch on to Jeff Bruce. Jeff came with a vision of focusing on small group and one on one mentoring. This was the new direction that God wanted to take Center for Champions.
Presently, Center for Champions offers youth one on one mentoring through the Rooted Mentoring Program – a comprehensive after school program where each student is matched with a mentor at a particular site. Center for Champions also offers Life on Life Mentoring where youth are matched with a caring, Christian adult for a one-year commitment to meet 2-3 hours each week.
Today, 49 youth are matched with a mentor at Center for Champions. In the near future, Center for Champions expects to have all youth matched with a caring, Christian adult mentor.