Street Light ministry to youth in downtown Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Mich. — On Friday nights, 15-year-old Olivia Cooper-Jones likes to hang out at an old storefront on South Division Avenue next door to a biker’s club.
While it’s not the neighborhood of choice and sits squarely in an area stigmatized by the more unsavory characteristics of this city, Cooper-Jones and scores of other teens have found something that breaks from the typical fare of the inner city at the Division Avenue Outreach Center.
“It’s a place to go to chill out and not have all the drama,” Cooper-Jones said. “They’ve got a lot of positive stuff to do. All my friends are down here.”
Part of the downtown outreach of Street Light Ministries, DAOC (pronounced “dah OC” in the adopted hip hop lingo of outreach leaders) is changing the outlook of teens across the downtown area by providing a fun hangout in a positive environment.
“This is something we need to have here,” Cooper-Jones said. “Before this, we were all out in the streets. Going here you can realize you can do something positive with life and still be loved and be with other people and your friends.”
On a recent Friday night, 30 teens and children crowded into DAOC where they played basketball, video games, and gathered around volunteer leaders playing card games or drawing artwork to decorate the walls.
For Adrian Dalstra, the 23-year-old who heads up DAOC, this is about more than just playing games with the teens who come.
“It’s to build authentic relationships with the kids and in that relationship…we can talk about Christ,” he said.
Since DAOC started in September of 2006, Dalstra said those meaningful relationships have been growing.
“Now they come up to you and tell you about their week and their jobs,” he said. “It’s like they know we have a relationship that is beyond the norm–something that will last.”
Sixteen-year-old Orlando Jones comes to DAOC regularly. He said even the way leaders take the time to sit and talk with them is setting good examples for him and other teens.
“They set a good example for me to do good in school,” he said. “This is changing me.”
This outreach for teens is very personal for Dalstra because this site on Division Avenue sits only about two miles from where he once lived when he grew up in the inner city. He said that when he was young, there wasn’t any place like DAOC where teens could go and hang out in a positive environment. Without a positive influence, he admits that he and his brother found trouble rather than the positive outlets he now helps provide for the youth of Grand Rapids.
“I’ve always had a heart for the inner city because I grew up downtown,” Dalstra said. “These are God’s children.”
While Friday night is the big event of the week, Dalstra said, he and other leaders make a point to connect with teens and their families by visiting their homes during the week, talking with them and helping them with life.
“We can talk about Christ,” Dalstra said of the relationships he’s building. “Not just, ‘Here’s your tract and see you later.’”
That relational base for this outreach seems to be working. Dalstra said they distributed fliers about the event for the first two weeks but word-of-mouth has spread the news and Friday nights have grown from 20 kids to as many as 50.
With the warmth of spring and more kids than the renovated game room can hold, they sometimes move to a nearby park where they play football.
Whether inside or out, this outreach is having an affect on teens that goes beyond Friday nights.
“You can invite your friends and they come and stay out of trouble to, like, start a new life,” Jones said. “Instead of being on the bad path of life, you’re being on the good path.”