Fast-paced After-school Ministry, En Gedi, Infuses Fun with Values

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

en gedi 225En Gedi’s logo is known among area students.There’s a loud silence in the hallways of Red Hawk Elementary School in Cedar Springs that quickly disappears when the 2:22 p.m. bell rings to announce the end of the school day. Then, a throng of students exit the classrooms filling the corridors with lively chatter. Not all will immediately head home, however.

An average of sixty 6th, 7th and 8th graders walk to the three rooms that’s dedicated to an after school program called the En Gedi Youth Center, which draws children from Red Hawk Elementary and also from the Creative Technology Academy, Algoma Christian School and home schooled students.

En Gedi is a fast-paced Christ-centered program that accomplishes more than providing kids with a nutritious snack before their parents pick them up at 5:15 p.m.

En Gedi is an oasis

en gedi2Students line up to register with En Gedi executive director Craig Owens.En Gedi is an oasis in Israel located west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and the Qumran Caves. It’s a fitting name for the youth group, which provides an oasis, or safe place, for some who are latchkey students, said Red Hawk Elementary principal April Stevens.

“It’s really a nice outlet for the kids to have other than going home to empty homes,” said Stevens. “They’re really not old enough to be home alone but too old to go to a traditional day care.”

But make no mistake: Providing a safe place for students to hang out doesn’t equate to boredom, nor is it an opportunity for kids to idle their time away, said En Gedi’s executive director Craig T. Owens, who also is the senior pastor at Calvary Assembly of God in Cedar Springs.

en gedi 3Student Kaden Robinson and Craig Owens share a laugh.“We picked those grades (6th, 7th, and 8th) because they’re the most predictive years for success academically and socially,” said Owens. “Our day-to-day program has changed after we met with the 6th grade principal and middle school principal and asked how we can be an extension of what kids are learning. As a result, the program has morphed so we now have 45 minutes of homework time.”

Keeping it fast paced

Owens keeps the ministry’s focus fast paced. Following a snack, they work on their homework, which is accomplished with or without a volunteer tutor comprised of National Honor Society students and elementary teachers. Students may then play foosball or board games, or basketball, dodge ball and bubble soccer. It also offers a Bible club.

en gedi 4A recent question of the day students grappled with: What is gossip?One goal is to encourage kids to dip their toe in an area of learning that stretches their horizons, said Owens.

So some may learn how to play a guitar, join a jewelry or art class or run the track in the school gym or try poll vaulting or play ping pong.

They also interact with Kent County sheriff’s deputies so they learn how to be comfortable interacting with law enforcement officials and learn fire safety from the Cedar Springs fire chief. If a missionary is visiting, Owens has stop by to give a firsthand account of their far-off adventures such as in the mountains of Tibet.

“We try to have as many experiences with them as possible that they otherwise wouldn’t try anywhere else,” said Owens, who relies on a volunteer staff of 15-20 people to help out.

One of those volunteers is Ellen Pike, 22, a senior at Cornerstone University majoring in psychology who’s an intern with En Gedi.

Positive influences

“I’ve learned this is such a critical age for the kids to have positive influences in their lives,” said Pike. “En Gedi does that for them.”

en gedi 5Students eagerly weigh in about the Question Of The Day.Then there’s the Question Of The Day or what all the students at En Gedi learn to dub, the QOTD, which explores a specific topic to shape students’ values A recent interactive discussion focused on gossip, why it’s wrong and how gossip is based on a lie as well or is true about a person, but either way, it still hurts people.

En Gedi is offered at no cost and parents or guardians voluntarily enroll their children. It is funded primarily through an annual auction that this year is March 20 at Cedar Springs High School that C.S. Manufacturing matches whatever the auction raises.

En Gedi runs Monday-Thursday during the school year from 2:30-5:15 p.m.It is also offered four weeks in the summer to young people regardless of age.

His name is ‘Pastor’

Many of the students refer to Owens as “Pastor” which he humorlessly points out many of them assume is his given first name.

And that’s fine for sixth-grader Carley Shears.

“It’s a lot of fun to get to hang with friends and get a lot of help from your teachers,” Carley said. “Pastor is really, really fun and has a sense of humor but he’s also serious about things.”

en gedi 6From left, sixth-grade students Carley Shears, Bailey Newberg and Karis Pyne look forward to their time at the En Gedi Youth Center.Sixth-grader Bailey Newberg said she sees her classmates showing more respect for one another since attending En Gedi.

“And they expect you to respect them,” Bailey added.

“I like how they are polite and don’t do bad things around you,” added sixth-grader Karis Pyne.

En Gedi is a nonprofit founded in 2009 by area youth ministers Tom Holloway of Solon Center Wesleyan church, and C.J. Mauer, of Springs Free United Methodist. The men launched the ministry to serve as a positive, wholesome environment for kids to work on their homework, and promote values. Holloway served as the nonprofit’s first executive director.

When he assumed the senior pastorate of Solon Center, Owens was tapped to succeed him as executive director, a position he’s held since the 2011-12 school year.

“Our main values with En Gedi is helping to build community,” said Owens. “We want to provide a benefit to the whole community and instill values so students have a much greater chance for success when they get in high school.”


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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