There's a lot of anger expressed online on platforms like Facebook where feedback is impersonal, says Bill Mundhausen of The Key, but they wouldn't act like that if they were face to face.

Bringing people together in person — it’s a simple concept but one that seems to have diminished with the rise of social media. An informal gathering place in the works in Camdenton though aims to bring back the personal aspect of communication.

The Key Gathering Place at the Orion Center, 1163 S. Business Route 5, describes itself well, hoping to offer a grassroots kind of community center in the 6,000-square-foot former museum and science center. 

There’s a lot of anger expressed online on platforms like Facebook where feedback is impersonal, says Bill Mundhausen of The Key, but they wouldn’t act like that if they were face to face. If people could be brought together in person, there would be greater understanding.

The big picture of The Key’s mission may seem like a jump from the original mission of The Orion Center which was science education, but it all relates back to Bill’s and wife Peg’s vision of making a positive impact on the Camdenton and greater Lake of the Ozarks community.

Moving to Lake of the Ozarks from the State of California in 1994, the couple operated The Orion Center from 2005 to 2015 after donating the building and grounds for the not-for-profit science center and museum. 

While science was Bill’s interest, and the couple had hoped to bring a fresh and fun perspective to science education through the not-for-profit center, it didn’t end of being something of great interest to the community, he admits. The science project has shifted to a media-only approach, but still needed to do something with the building. 

They took the property back over in January 2018 after formerly selling the site.

This time around, the Mundhausens are letting the community guide the project and have been in communication with local churches, organizations and individuals about needs here.

What surfaced was a need for a community center, just a gathering spot for non-church-based groups and activities — churches typically have their spaces already — but also whatever need might arise within the community. 

“Based on those meetings and conversations, we decided to re-purpose the Orion Center facility as a community center. Because we are a Christian organization, our emphasis is that faith and relationship is foundational to meeting what appear to be material needs. The name Key Gathering Place is based on "Keep Educating Yourself"...the idea that learning is central to improving our lot in life. That motto represents a universal truth, regardless of whether your individual philosophy is spiritual or secular,” explained Bill.

With the small group involved, greater flexibility seems to be a hallmark of the project and subsequent operation.

Renovations are underway piecemeal as The Key receives donations of money, material and labor. They are approximately halfway to their renovation goal of $19,300, though this may be less as volunteer labor decreases the monetary need. 

A small sunroom has been renovated, and a few small groups are already taking advantage of the space — Men of Destiny meet there on Tuesdays, Penny’s Prayer Table on Mondays. Other groups are also meeting there from time to time including Concerned Women of America and the Branch of David.

During a visit October 16, a kitchen lay partially completed, awaiting further donations to be completed, with plans by one of their volunteers for a small soup kitchen to serve those in need. 

A larger communal area is also awaiting more renovation. 

According to Bill, they’ve already started getting calls from people interested in using the space as a wedding venue. With the significant expense of weddings these days, Bill says people seem to be in need of more affordable options. There’s also been some interest in having a small music venue and a neutral site for church groups to engage with the community.

Bill estimated that as little as $5,000 could allow them to complete the first phase of renovations for the main 3,400 square foot area. The second phase would cover a 2,600 square foot wing addition.

A “crowd funding” approach is being taken to find monthly donors to help cover the estimated ongoing costs of utilities maintenance and supplies, and so far, they are at a rate of $205 per month. 

In addition to local donations, Bill is writing two grant applications to try to help cover costs. 

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating may go to their website, www.keygatheringplace.com, or email Bill Mundhausen at billm@orioncenter.org.