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Now open: Youth Connect Center
Brandon church launches after-school program for community youth
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

October 03. 2013 10:15AM
When 11-year-old Madison Kobernusz shuffled her way into Brandon Valley Assembly of God’s Youth Connect Center after school last Tuesday, she was elated to learn that she could stay – and play – for free.

“Pretend like this is your friend’s house,” BVAG Youth Pastor Jake Koenes told her.

And that’s just the concept the program has been operating on since its Sept. 2 opening.

“This is just us trying to help our community – to be there for people,” he said. “Our slogan is ‘Love God. Love People and Make a Difference,’ and we’re not going to make a difference if we stay inside these walls.”

After the new sanctuary was ready for use by the BVAG congregation earlier this year, the former sanctuary was turned over to the youth.

“The kids picked out the colors,” Koenes said of the black walls and neon green accents.

With volunteer help from the kids who are now using the room and donations from church members, the room was repainted and redecorated to give it an industrial look.
“All of the stuff you see here has been donated by members of the congregation,” Koenes said. Among the donations are a pool table, air hockey game, fooseball and ping pong tables, two computers, flat screen TVs and a plethora of video games.

The Youth Connect Center is open daily from after school to 5:30 p.m. Koenes said the Center was created “to fill that gap between after school and when mom and dad get home.” It’s open to middle and high school kids.

In the first weeks of operation, Koenes said seven to eight kids on average were showing up. Last Tuesday, the after school program drew 18 middle school-aged kids – the largest attendance to date – to the Youth Connect Center.

“We’re just starting to advertise and getting ready to kick it up,” Koenes said.

The Center is supervised by Koenes and a host of adult volunteers from both the church and community. Volunteers are always needed, Koenes said, and with added volunteer supervision, the church’s gym could be utilized after school as well.

The Center’s hours could also be extended, and is planned to be open during the daytime in the summer months.

“With more volunteers, it could be possible to go into the evening hours,” Koenes said. “It’s a possibility because our dreams are much bigger than this room.”

While the Center offers a variety of games and activities, kids can tackle their homework assignments there too. Volunteer Dorothy Maurer, who previously worked 11 years at a Minnesota high school, is eager to help kids with their homework.

“When I worked in Redwood Falls, I loved every day of it,” she said. “So when I had a chance to hang out with the kids, I jumped on it.”

Maurer said a few mothers have asked her to have their child to work on their school assignments at the Center.

“I know which kids to ‘corner,’ ” she says. “Otherwise, we just go with the flow.”

And that’s pretty much sums up the Youth Connect Center rules.

“Be smart and be safe,” Koenes said. “The rule I tell the our kids on every youth trip is ‘don’t’ be stupid.’ ”

Koenes said participants should use “common sense” at the Center.

“That’s what we’re going with until the kids give us a reason to make rules,” he said.

Although there’s no participation fee, kids are asked to sign in when they arrive and sign out before they leave. That’s done mostly for accountability reasons, Koenes said.

The Youth Connect Center is not BVAG’s initial plunge into the community. For years, they’ve hosted a “Trunk-n’Treat” event at Halloween and in recent years, launched Fifth Quarter, a youth activity night following home sporting events.

BVAG’s Sept. 20 Fifth Quarter event drew about 400 middle school kids, Koenes said.

Dustin Kemner, an eighth grader at Brandon Valley Middle School and BVAG member, said he likes coming to the Center to spend time with his friends and help out, if needed.
“I like how safe the environment is for kids,” said the 14-year-old.

Ethan McManus and Connor Klimek, both 11, were in the midst of a rousing game of fooseball last week. McManus, who said he’s attended seven to eight times since the Center’s opening, said he’d otherwise “be sitting at home watching TV and doing really nothing.”

“I usually come here because I get to hang out with my friends, watch videos and stuff,” McManus said. “The pastors are really nice and sometimes you get to play Dodgeball.”





The entrance to the Connect Youth Center at Brandon Valley Assembly of God are visibly marked with the program's logo. Photo by Jill Meier



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