BY TINA SUNDELIUS
CHARLEVOIX COUNTY NEWS
East Jordan – The Depot Teen Center opened its doors on January 27, 2017. There were 153 youth grades 6-12 that walked into the East Jordan Civic Center that day remembers Program Director Scott Gillespie. For the next couple of years, the teen center averaged 100-120 students a week. THen the Civic Center closed followed by Covid and all that encompassed. Things became a little scattered for the youth ministry that gives students a safe place to hang with friends. “In the kid’s words, they lost their home, and we’re just now getting that feedback,” said Gillespie.
Now, The Depot has found a new home in the lower level of the St. Joseph Parish Hall located on the corner of Nicholls and Second Streets. They’ve been meeting again and are averaging around 40 students every Friday. “It’s positive energy here and always fun,” said eighth-grader Lucinda Kibbe. The Depot is a faith-based 501c3 that offers games, crafts, wi-fi, food, and friends. “I come here because my friends are here and there’s amazing food and so I don’t have to go to my house because it’s lonely there,” said eighth-grader Taryn Lent.
One of the main events each Friday is the cooking class. Volunteers come in and work with the students to prepare a meal which is shared together family-style. Retired teacher, Heather Outman, spends her Fridays at The Depot cooking for and with the kids, “I love this place, I know the kids and I love the kids,” she said. The entire program is volunteer-centered. If there are enough volunteers, the kids participate in the meal preparations and are taught how to cook. “The Depot not only gives them a safe place to be themselves but also feeds their mind, body, and soul,” said volunteer Joshua Mayes. This is by far the most effective ministry I’ve seen.”
Each week there is a new craft to learn, a gaming room, and space to do homework, visit, or relax. “It’s kind of like family here, and I enjoy being here,” said seventh-grader Leanne Barnes. Retired teacher, Debbie Peters, has just started volunteering at the center. “I’ve always worked with teens so this is a great way to spend time,” she said.
Gillespie has a vision for an even larger youth outreach. He would like to see the ministry active five days a week and have more focused life skills classes and projects and leadership training. “We have no idea what these kids are dealing with at home and school. This is an opportunity for us to love on them and let them know their lives matter,” said Gillespie. In order to expand the ministry, more volunteers and sustained financial support are needed for overall operations and special programs.