NORTH VERNON — The start of every new school year produces familiar scenes: yellow school buses transporting students, children carrying their books in backpacks and teachers instructing students in classrooms.

In downtown North Vernon another familiar school-related image replayed Tuesday: seven middle and high school students, with backpacks in hand, left a parked gray bus and headed for the Solid Rock Cafe on East Walnut Street.

First Christian Church has operated the Solid Rock Cafe for more than 15 years as an after-school program and safe environment for students at Jennings County students in grades 6 to 12.

A church van is used to transport students from both schools to the cafe. Free snacks, games, music and computer access are part of the program. Trained church volunteers always are on site during the cafe’s hours of operations, which are 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on days school is in session. Homework assistance is provided upon request.

“This is not a church service and you do not have to be a member of our church to participate in this program. It is something our volunteers do as a service to the community,” said Angee Leeds, First Christian’s youth director.

“We actually usually have more non-church members in the program than church members,” said Cindy Morrison, who drives the bus two days a week and also volunteers for other duties at the Solid Rock Cafe.

The cafe just completed its second week of the school year, so the number of kids is lower than usual, Morrison added.

After the seven students signed in at the cafe Tuesday, they walked to the counter at the rear of the large room to pick up their free piece of pizza and a soft drink.

Francis Graper hurried to cut the fresh-out-of-the-oven handmade pizza.

“We’ve always given them free snacks. At least we have since I’ve been here and I’ve been here since the Solid Rock started,” Graper said.

Jennings County High School sophomore Steve Gutrell said he enjoys coming to the cafe after school.

While playing a game of carpet ball, first-time participant Araya Ramey, a Jennings County Middle School seventh-grader, said she plans to return to the Solid Rock Cafe.

“I didn’t know what it was like so I came this time to find out. This is fun and I will be back and I will bring my friends with me,” Ramey said.

Jennings County Middle School seventh-graders Jasmine Craig and Eligh Gabbard-Heitz are back at the Solid Rock for a second year.

“The Rock is more fun than just hanging out at home,” they said.

Jennings High freshman Zariah Giddens concurred.

“It’s just too boring at home, so I really like to come here,” Giddens said.

Two long-time Solid Rock participants, Adrian and Austin Craig, both Jennings High students, weren’t too happy Tuesday because the big-screen TV at the corner of the room was broken.

“They like to play football games but the TV is broken and I don’t know when we will be able to get it fixed. I think we will have to have a fund drive or maybe the Labor Day garage sale,” Graper said.

About the cafe

What: Solid Rock Cafe, an after-school program by First Christian Church in North Vernon for students at Jennings County Middle and Jennings County High schools.

When: Open from 3:30 until 5:30 p.m.everyday that school is in session.

Where: 108 E. Walnut St., next door to the church in downtown North Vernon.

Information: call Angee Leeds at 812-346-3177 or go online at Christian-Church-Youth-Ministry-118777424785