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The Big Reveal

Founders unveil plans for Legacy Community Center


For three east Parker County stakeholders, a long-time dream is becoming a reality. On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Mary Jean (MJ) Bentley, along with co-founders Mike and Megan Howell, announced the acquisition of property and facilities for the Legacy Community Center near Annetta on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

During a packed-house presentation at Lynch Legacy Real Estate in Willow Park, the three co-founders of the center laid out their plans, describing what the center is and why it is needed.

“When we say the legacy center, a lot of people don’t understand what that is, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because this hasn’t ever been done before,” Megan Howell said. “In short, the legacy center is going to be a family recreation center, but we’re going to be focusing on leadership and character development. So this isn’t a daycare. It’s not a drop-off center. This is a place where families can come together, spend some time, create some memories through creativity classes, life skills classes. Our messaging is going to be very intentional. So an easy way to think of it might be a leadership school disguised as a recreation center.”

Bentley, a film producer and actress who helped produce the film “Gallows Road” in Aledo a few years ago, explained her participation in the Legacy Community Center project.

“I have a passion, a passion to serve others,” Bentley said. “Why are we doing all of this? Because we have kids. But we also see the need to pour into the kids and families, as we are one big community. And together we can accomplish great things. We see the world our kids are growing up in and we look ahead and know that we need to step in and do some heavy lifting in order to create leaders and to raise them in a way that can positively impact the next generation.”

Bentley hosts a group of middle-school-aged girls at her home every Wednesday for Bible study and conversation. She described a recent incident that moved her deeply.

“Just the other day a girl was struggling. We were listening. I immediately asked an open-ended question and then realized I needed to address the entire group with an honest but tough question. 13 of my 15 girls sitting in my living room raised their hands when I asked if they had ever thought about taking their lives - 13 out of 15. It broke my heart, but it made me realize they just want to be heard.”

Bentley pointed to anxiety, entitlement, identity issues, depression, rage, rejection, and rebellion as issues that arise out of “the breakdown of a healthy family unit and ultimately, from the breakdown of our community.”

Bentley then introduced Brad Hunstable, whose 12-year-old son Hayden committed suicide about two years ago.

“As part of the grieving process, Brad has poured his heart into raising awareness about suicide. We produced a film called ‘Almost 13’ — I encourage parents to watch this. It actually won the silver Telly Award and we weren’t even going for that,” Bentley said.


A Changed World

“The world has changed so much since we were kids,” Hunstable said. “There’s more broken families out there. There’s less people going to church. The country is more divided certainly in my lifetime than it’s ever been. There’s this pandemic that has raised the anxiety in the entire world to a height that, certainly again in my generation, I’ve never seen and my fear is we’ve started millions of kids down a path of bad decisions that ultimately lead to more pain.”

Hunstable said that while teaching core curriculum is a good thing, “we forgot the most fundamental thing about life is to teach them how to live  — how to be good people, how to think positive, how to be mindful.”

While some children receive that training from teachers, coaches, churches, and parents, Hunstable said his experience in the mental health arena tells him many children do not.

“And my fear is we’re going to lose a generation,” Hunstable said.

Hunstable spoke of Aledo as being “title town” in football and academics.

“I would argue and submit to you the best thing we can be titletown on is to make great human beings; human beings that spread positivity, that are that are good people that spread hope in the world, that spread kindness.”

Hunstable said another challenge youth and adults have today is the cell phone.

“We didn’t have social media — it wasn’t even a thing when we were kids. When you get bullied on social media, I promise you, it hurts just as bad as being bullied to your face. And, I might even argue, it’s even worse. It sits there and lasts and it goes viral.”

Hunstable said constant stimulus from, for example, funny videos on social media causes spikes in dopamine levels, which then sends baseline dopamine levels down.

“You know what that looks like? It looks like depression, and anxiety, and ADHD, and impulsiveness. And so what do we do? We take our kids to the doctor, and we give them pharmaceuticals.”

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death of 10 to 14-year-olds. Of 15 to 24-year-olds, of 25 to 34-year-olds in the greatest country in the world. How’s that acceptable?” Hunstable asked. 

He said youth suicide typically breaks down into two categories. About 50% had a previous medical diagnosis and 50% did not have a previous mental health diagnosis.

“And when we look at broadly used suicide, 55% of them are impulsive. How scary is that?” Hunstable said. “When in the last hour, or 45% of them in the last five minutes, decide to kill themselves. And when you look at what they’re facing, the backdrop of the algorithms and social media and gaming, combined with maybe a bad household, parents that are struggling or they’re seeing drugs or whatever it may be. And then you get a trigger.”

“My fear is that we’re gonna lose a generation of people, and this is why the Legacy Center is so important,” Hunstable added. “Because it’s through that we’re going to create human beings that can solve these — we’re gonna give them the tools to solve this.”



Mike Howell described the purpose of activities at the Legacy Community Center.

“Hurting people hurt people,” he said. “Hurting kids hurt themselves. They hurt other people. They grow up to be hurting adults. [Do you] know what hurting adults do? They hurt other people. There are answers to these questions. Because healthy people help people, right? Healthy people help other people get better, serve other people.

“Kids will do anything if it’s fun, right? They’ll do anything if they’re having fun doing it. That’s why kids quit youth sports is when they stop becoming fun.”

Using that principle, Mike Howell gave an example of the type of activity-based learning that will be used at the center using archery.

In archery, he said, the target can be described as a goal. “We’re going to teach kids how to create steps to achieve goals. What do I need to have if I want to penetrate that goal? I’ve got to have sharp arrows. That’s a plan of attack to accomplish those steps you just created,” he said.

The tension of pulling back on the bowstring can be likened to obstacles that happen in life. 

“But what’s awesome is teaching someone to overcome obstacles. That’s called resilience,” he added.

Additional team-building and esteem-building exercises were demonstrated and then the property where the center will be located was revealed.

“We are currently under contract on an amazing 23-acre retreat style property located here in Parker County,” Bentley told the group, describing the location which is south of Old Annetta Road just after the bend south of Clear Fork Materials.

“We are hoping to close near the end of March and begin to fill our calendar of events over the summer months,” Bentley added.

Physical structures are already in place that will allow the property to be utilized quickly.

“The reason this property is awesome is because we have unlimited outdoor possibilities,” Megan Howell said. “So we can have outdoor fitness, large group gatherings, birthday parties, even weddings, there’s roping arenas and facilities for animals.”

Besides stables and stalls, there is a 2,600-square-foot, three-bedroom house on the property. The bedrooms will be re-purposed, but the kitchen will remain as a teaching area.

There is also an additional smaller home on the property that the public can use.

“The views are inspiring, the atmosphere is relaxing, and we are so excited to have a refreshing outdoor space,” Bentley said. “In all of our planning, we always envisioned a warm environment and a welcoming entry. The phrase ‘make yourself at home’ will be relevant and repeated daily. By the way, the property comes with all the furniture. This is a gift from God. This is a place that can become the heart and hub of the community where families gather to use the village around them to help raise their kids, where birthday parties and showers and precious moments are hosted, where the community gathers in preparation for victories and celebrations when they are accomplished.”

All were excited about the full, wrap-around porch on the main house.


What’s needed

Bentley asked the group of community leaders at the unveiling to “spread the word.” Endeavors of this scale need more than funding, however.

“We need local people to volunteer their time to mentor, businessmen and women, parents, anyone with a talent for a special skill set to come teach a life skill or creative class that they enjoy,” Bentley said.

There are opportunities for becoming a founding member, naming some facilities, and permanent sponsorships.

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