Grand Rapids Gym Provides Mentoring for Youth

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“Is he buff?” This was the question Kevin Rigg heard a young teen ask upon learning that his uncle had been released from prison.

Rigg was concerned by the positive associations that some youths in urban neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, Mich., had with incarceration. So he gathered men whom he’d known from his past 25 years of urban youth ministry to open a weightlifting gym with a focus on mentorship.

With support from several Christian Reformed churches in West Michigan, a vacant McDonalds restaurant was transformed into a power lifting gym.

Nantaikitao “Chase” Makura, 16, was walking by after school one day and was invited in. There he learned proper weightlifting form and technique.

Makura, who had not previously participated in other after-school activities, has learned to keep pushing and never give up.

His instructor was Danny White. White met Kevin Rigg when he was 11 years old through an urban basketball ministry and summer inner-city rodeo program. As a reward for memorizing Bible verses, White and four others went on a road trip with Rigg to swim in all five of the Great Lakes.

Several in that small group have maintained relationships with Rigg over the years. Some experienced incarceration themselves and are glad to share their stories with the youths through their coaching relationships.

Jason Botbyl is a member of Madison At Ford, a satellite location of Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. He has been weight training since he was fifteen years old and had been praying for a way to connect his love for weightlifting with a passion for youth ministry.

He is excited for the opportunity to mentor youth and challenge them through weightlifting to set goals and live healthy lifestyles.

Rigg was affirmed in the ministry’s impact early on when he heard one of the youth ask his coach, “How did you get so strong?” The response: “My strength comes from the Lord.”

The gym is part of Up and Out Ministries, supported by Hillcrest, Georgetown and Sunshine Community CRCs in West Michigan. For more on the ministry, please visit

About the Author

Noah Kruis is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids North.