3 Mile Project Encourages Kids to be Loud, to Belong

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

3mp1 The outside of 3 Mile Project still resembles the manufacturing building it once was. Inside, the fun begins.Stan Kiste, executive director of the community youth center, 3 Mile Project, says there are a growing number of young people who are disenchanted with Christianity.

"There are barriers they have toward church," Kiste said. "It is perceived as weird, hypocritical or irrelevant. Families have been hurt by the church. And the perception with some churches is it's OK to wait for people to come to see them."

Following innumerable hours of prayer and soul-searching the 3 Mile Project opened its doors in November 2010. It's located in an industrial park at 3050 Walkent Drive NW in Walker, which required the principals behind the ministry to receive a zoning variance from city officials.

It's a party inside

3mp2Executive director Stan Kiste welcomes a group of arriving kids.Outside, the building appears as its former self: a plastic injection-molding manufacturer. Inside the 34,000-square foot structure is a party waiting to happen, replete with sports courts, three theaters, a skate park, a reball arena, gaga ball, video games, craft and project room, table games (pool and foosball) and a cafe.

With the exception of scripture verses projected on widescreen TVs, there are no Christian symbols displayed. Kids are not hit over the head with a Bible. They do not hear fire-and-brim stone sermons and they certainly are not required to sit still in a pew.

"It doesn't feel or look like church," Kiste said of 3 Mile Project.

Nimble and neutral

"By design we're not affiliated with a denomination," continued Kiste. "We wanted to be neutral to that and be nimble on the decisions we have to make. Non-pressure, no messages preached, no expectations. We believe this (3 Mile Project) is the first step where we're in the process of preparing hearts to the idea of Jesus Christ. We certainly see results, just not the immediately gratifying kind experienced in other types of ministries. Our results tend to be smaller and more incremental than the kind experienced in more intensely discipling ministries."

3mp3The youth center offers plenty of activities inside its 34,000-square feet of space.The facility's hours of operation are age specific. In the summer, students who will enter 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in the fall are admitted 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays; and students who will be entering 5th and 6th grades in the fall are admitted 6-9 p.m.,Thursdays.

During the school year it is open 6-9 p.m., Thursdays for grades 9th-12; 7-10 p.m., Fridays for grades 7th-8th and 6-9 p.m., Saturdays for grades 5th and 6th.

A modest $5 admission fee helps cover some of its annual budget of $560,000. Fundraisers, proceeds from its café and renting the building out also help cover 3 Mile Project's operating expenses. Kiste is its full-time director. 3 Mile Project has 16 part-time employees and 1,800 volunteers.

"Our demographic of kids who come here reflects a metro demographic a racial mix that reflects the wider metro area," Kiste said.

A ministry incubator

An unintended but welcome result of 3 Mile Project is it's become a training ground for young people who intend to make full-time ministry a career.

3mp4A big favorite is gaga ball."Many are ministry students who've become youth ministers," Kiste said. "We've become a youth ministry incubator because they gain broad and specific skills here that suits well in youth ministry."

Concerned about a growing number of young people with no ties to the Lord, the Bible or a church, Kiste and three other Walker residents who prefer to stay out of the public eye initially considered an after-school coffee shop.

That early idea was scuttled when they surveyed 700 teens asking what kind of after-school venue would they be drawn to.

The majority said an activity-based experience.

The men then considered buildings for sale at various locations including a 2,700-square foot edifice they made an offer on, which the seller initially accepted, but then backed out of.

Ultimately that was a good thing.

The building that is now 3 Mile Project was purchased for $50,000 less than the 2,700-square foot building, according to Kiste.

'God, this is perfect'

"We walked in the building and said, 'God, this is perfect,'" Kiste recalled. "There was room to put what we wanted, where we wanted."

At 3 Mile Project, staff and volunteers make it a point to learn kids' first names. They want them to know this is a place where they can have fun, where they are treated respectfully and bathed in God's love, Kiste said.

"It's always been tough growing up, especially today," Kiste said. "Kids are more isolated today than ever. They live in a gotcha culture that's more interested in tearing them down than building them up.

"We're a ministry of softening hearts, a reflection of God's love and joy."

3050 Walkent Drive NW, Walker, MI 49544
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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