Since 1998, Lifelight has brought Christian music to kids all over KELOLAND.
“They have really cool concerts here, last week they had a rapper here and he was really fun,” teenager McKenzie Poncelet said.
It’s a niche they’re still fulfilling, hosting concerts every month inside its new space
“On the first level is a dual purpose room, can have concerts up to 200 people as a max occupancy when there’s not a concert going on, we transform the space into a Nerf arena,” CEO/Evangelist at Lifelight, Josh Brewer said.
Lifelight’s first ever youth center is providing area middle school and high school students much more than music.
“We find out very quickly through some donations of Nerf guns that kids really love Nerf wars still,” Brewer said.
The Nerf wars are an easy favorite that continue to draw neighborhood kids like McKenzie Poncelet out to the youth center whenever its open.
“That’s our goal, is to get kids off the street, get them around people and mentors that truly love them and want good things for their life,” Brewer said.
“The youth center opens after school and in the evening three nights a week–and often times there’s a line up of kids waiting to get inside the newly remodeled space right in the heart of one of downtown’s most crime ridden neighborhoods,”
“I grew up in and around the area of Pettigrew Heights and I’m from a very dysfunctional family, and I was able to turn my life around when some people came around me and started loving on me and wanted better things for my life. I know that my life is not so special that that same story can’t be said for the other 3,000 kids that live in this neighborhood,” Brewer said.
“They just want somebody to sit with them, play a game with them, play Jenga, make some food, give them popcorn, that’s pretty much all it takes,” Lifelight Youth Center’s Coordinator Bridget Kolenc said.
Kolenc started volunteering at Lifelight’s Youth Center when it first opened in August.
“They have a lasting impact on your heart,” Kolenc said.
She’s now the youth center coordinator, welcoming any student who comes through the doors after school.
“We have some really hungry kids here, that’s definitely an immediate need, we’re trying to feed them after school snacks, we want to get a dinner provided every night, it can be hard to afford that sometimes, food donations are huge,” Kolenc said.
“That’s a huge need for the kids that come here, they come hungry and we want to be able to feed them,” Kolenc said.
But more than providing for their physical needs, the staff and volunteers at the Lifelight Youth Center are working to make a lasting impact on their growing, often struggling hearts.
“You think oh they’re okay, they’re always quiet and nice and when you really get to know them you find that both of their parents are in jail or one died of an overdose, the stories are shocking– it’s really heartbreaking, which is why we’re here because we want to see that cycle end of brokenness,” Kolenc said.
It’s a transformation the Lifelight staff and volunteers are already seeing in the lives of many students who have found their way to the youth center.
“It’s pretty much just consistency. Showing up every day, showing yourself to be faithful and trustworthy is the first step to them opening up to you, it’s just being loving and kind, that’s pretty much it. They just want somebody that’s real that actually cares, once they truly find out oh, we’re here to love on them, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, we’re here to stay and to be there for them…once they see that displayed, the walls come down,” Kolenc said.
Breaking down barriers and building up hearts, within the safe, loving walls of the Lifelight Youth Center.
The youth center located inside the historic First Christian Church on the corner of duluth and 13th street isn’t just for kids in the pettigrew neighborhood–its open to any 12 to 18 year old, no matter their background. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a volunteer or helping to supply food for the kids, visit this story on keloland dot com.