For years students from local middle and high schools hung out after school on the back steps of Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, Mass. Since some smoked, the group became known as the Smokers’ Club.
Instead of discouraging kids from loitering there, the church saw it as an opportunity.
Youth pastor Bill Hodgeman and a couple of students from the church opened the Real Life Student Center in a dedicated space in the church this past fall.
The center is open three afternoons a week from 2-5 p.m. and staffed by volunteers from the church and community. Students play games, do homework, have a snack, cook, work on computers, or leave a “mark” on a graffiti/art wall.
Hodgeman says many of the students come from “at-risk” homes in the area and some are now coming to the youth programs offered by the church.
Seventh-grader Marie Delgado summed it up for many of the kids when she said, “Coming here is the highlight of my week.”