TF South students find food, music, and neighbors at the church building next door
by Ernst Lamothe Jr.
LANSING, Ill. (February 1, 2019) – Nathan Kilbury grabs a slice of sausage pizza, picks up a few cookies, and stands in the middle of large hall just catching up with some friends. By itself, each of those three actions seems uneventful and common—especially for a teenage football player. But these actions are all elements of a local program that has captured the attention of as many as hundreds of students each week.
Every Wednesday First United Methodist Church and Increasing Faith Ministries combine to offer Walk Over Wednesday, a weekly event where TF South students can hang out with friends, talk to church members, play games, dance and overall fellowship. The church is at 18420 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, walking distance from the high school.
“There are not a lot of places that go out of the way to do something like this,” said Kilbury, 14, a freshman at South who has been coming for the past three months. “I look forward to it, and I know a lot of us feel the same way.”
Because TF South teachers and staff have professional development on Wednesday afternoon, students are dismissed early. While that might be some students’ idea of a great day, others who have extracurricular clubs and sports have an hour and a half gap between the end of school and the start of those activities. It’s a gap that can mean the difference between staying focused or getting in trouble. And the kids appreciate the chance to refuel before their next activities.
“We had one parent that I had never met before, come up to me in parking lot and donate $100 to the program in appreciation for what we are doing for her student,” said David Price, pastor at First United Methodist.
A great idea
The idea morphed from the church’s Thirsty Thursdays initiative—on Thursdays church members would bring drinks over to TF South, and after serving 400 cups they would run out. The church enjoyed connecting with the teens, so they considered hosting a Wednesday afternoon gathering once a month. They were prepared for a few dozen the first time they did it last year.
“Then we had more than 140 students turn up, and we couldn’t believe it,” said Price. “We knew we were on to something incredible when after that first time the students asked us if we were doing it again the following week.”
Plenty to do
There’s a game room featuring board games like Scrabble, Taboo and Battleship buttressed by mini table and foosball tables. A big screen television also showcases movies. Using his disc jockey skills, LeVar Young—pastor and founder of Increasing Faith Ministries—plays music throughout the afternoon while students dance or just listen. He credits talking with the students and understanding their needs as one of the reasons the program continues to grow.
“Students want activities sometimes to keep them out of trouble or just as something interesting that they can get into,” said Young. “Pastor Price and I made sure to ask students about what they wanted to see each week, so they could get invested and feel like they were truly a part of this.
Freshman Alex Stockdreher describes himself as “always in a hurry,” so he tends to like to be first anywhere he goes. His older brother told him about Walk Over Wednesdays. Now it’s one of the highlights of his week.
“It’s just an incredible thing that this church is doing for students,” said Stockdreher. “They don’t have to do this, but they all enjoy helping us out. We really appreciate being able to hang out here, have some food, and just have fun.”
Making a difference
The pastors and church officials are there to help the students in any way they want. It could be a quick conversation, a prayer, or simply knowing that there are people who care about them.
“Students want to know that you are thinking about them. They want to feel a connection,” added Young.
Ryan Richardson, dean of students at TF South, typically comes over just to speak with students and help provide them an out-of-school outlet for conversations or relaxation. Thankful that Price and Young give students this almost two-hour outlet each week, he understands the importance of that time.
“You can see the people involved in creating and hosting these Walk Over Wednesdays really care about the students. They asked their opinions on how to make this even better—which was important because what an adult thinks is a good time isn’t always what a teenager thinks!” added Richardson.
Price said he continues to look at ways to elevate Walk Over Wednesday and is always open to groups donating time, money, and resources to make sure the program thrives.
“Each week we try to do something different. We try to challenge ourselves to make this environment welcoming for students,” said Price. “I grew up in Lansing, and this is my home and my community. We are striving to make an impact in every way we can.”