community Cornerstone BY CHAD UMBLE, Staff Writer
Just before 7 on a recent Friday night, a line of kids was starting to form outside what was once Hungerford Insulation warehouse in Elizabethtown.
The building near the train station at 95 S. Wilson Ave. is now the home of Cornerstone Community Ministries, which makes it the Friday night home for some 40 to 50 students in grades six through 12.
For the youngsters attending the Friday Night Hang, the youth center offers a cafe, a large game room with pool and pingpong tables, video game room as well as an expansive indoor skate park know as The Pit.
For Cornerstone Community Ministries, the space has breathed new life into the ministry that began in 1998 with a coffee house on the square in Elizabethtown. Renovations of the new building were officially completed in November 2011.
"We're in our second year and we're really seeing the youth come back and enjoy the space. It's really been a good thing," says John Myers, Cornerstone's executive director.
Friday night, when the center is open from 7 to 10, is the main event of the week. During the week, college students from Elizabethtown College give homework help for students from 3 to 6 p.m. when the center also is open. A cooking club meets on Thursdays and the doors are again open on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m.
Once kids poured in Friday, Myers, along with volunteers, circulated as the students made themselves at home, conferring with friends or launching into games. At one point, Myers encouraged a pingpong player to focus his energy in a more gentle way, while also giving a thumbs-up to a student showing off a clever shirt.
"I think the community is glad that youth have a safe and fun place to come," Myers says.
Cornerstone Community Ministries was begun in 1998 by a group of pastors and J.D. Martin, who owned the building on the square that housed the program until the move to the new building. Myers has been executive director of the program for the last six years, joined by an administrative assistant.
Cornerstone is not supported by any one church, so it's $12,000 monthly operating budget comes through donations from the community, Myers said. A $750,0000 capital campaign funded the purchase of the 8,000-square-foot building and the renovations.
"I like that it is not just four walls and a box with a lot of kids. It's got character and nuance and different niches," Myers says.
The Mix, an 1,800-square foot space with a lot of the games also has couches that serve as the gathering area for TwiG (Time with God), which begins at 8 each Friday night.
At around 7:45 p.m., Dakota Aurand, an eighth-grader at Elizabethtown Area Middle School, was confidently preparing for his role in a skit during the program.
"I don't have any stage fright whatsoever," says the middle schooler who is lead guitarist in a band.
In the skit, Dakota was playing a former football coach named Tony, who he came to realize was Tony Dungy, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
"We try to provide a safe, fun place for youth to come and enjoy relationships with each other and with caring adults and ultimately to find life in Jesus Christ," Myers says.
The approach, though, is not heavy-handed, Myers says, with the guiding philosophy being that is a "decision of the heart" for students to become devoted Christians.
Samantha Bellino, a 10th-grader who spent the early part of the evening listening to music with her friend Samantha Ramirez near the cafe, agreed that while the events are clearly religious, it's not heavy-handed.
"They give you opportunities to do that kind of stuff, but they don't shove it down your throat," Samantha says. "If they did that there'd be like one or two people here."
nMinistry in Elizabethtown offers youth a popular, safe recreation space where their becoming devoted Christians is a 'decision of the heart.'