In MCJ’s Summer Preview, 1st District Alderman, Ashanti Hamilton said, ““We are in a crisis. We have record unemployment, record numbers of drop outs and terrifying literacy rates primarily among urban youth.” The article went on: “Combined with incarceration rates, a bleak economy and struggling neighborhoods, Hamilton says change is no longer a choice, it’s a mandate.” Alderman Hamilton is totally correct, and is to be commended for wanting to do something about the situation in his district and the City of Milwaukee overall. And he’s not alone.
In July, Garden Homes Lutheran Church and School (2450 W. Roosevelt Drive and in Alderman Hamilton’s district) turned over its old 13,000 square foot school, across Roosevelt Drive from its new school, to an organization called, The Lighthouse Youth Center. The new youth center, when completed in November, will provide youth in the Garden Homes neighborhood and beyond, a central location where they can gather safely for recreational activities, receive assistance on their academic assignments, enjoy the positive influence of adult Christian mentors, and have opportunities to study and discuss the truths of Scripture. The Lighthouse Youth Center (www.lighthouseyouthcenter.com) currently operates out of a closed Lutheran school at 5641 N. 68th Street, and wants to expand into the Garden Homes neighborhood in partnership with Garden Homes Lutheran Church and School (www.gardenhomeslutheran.org/school). Over the past five years, the current Lighthouse on 68th street has had over 20,000 youth walk through its doors and benefit from its services and support. Pastor Jim Buske, Lighthouse Director, feels a Garden Homes “Lighthouse” will impact even more youth.
The Lighthouse Youth Center had its own version of “Extreme Makeover” last July 9th (see attachment) when over 200 people from area congregations and the community helped to clean out the Garden Homes building which had been used as an MPS Montessori School for the past 7 years. The volunteer crew filled three dumpsters donated by the Milwaukee Police Department. With the building cleared, it is ready for renovations, including moving a few walls, updating the plumbing and electrical, new lighting, fresh paint, new flooring, a computer lab, study areas, video center, and more. The master plan is to be ready for opening in November.
The prospect of a new youth center in this part of the city is exciting. Pastor Jeremy Mattek from Garden Homes Lutheran Church says, “There are literally thousands of teenagers in our immediate community and not one youth center to serve them [Census data says 5,000]. The decision to create a center where the balm of the gospel is applied to the broken and hurting hearts of our community youth was an easy one. We simply needed a strong, gospel-minded partner like Lighthouse Youth Center to help make it happen.”
But the above is not the most exciting news. Last week, the new Lighthouse Youth Center at Garden Homes was broken into and several cases of Power Aide, intended for work crews, were stolen. When Director Buske found out and was investigating the break in, he approached some youth who were walking by the building, one of which was drinking a Power Aide. Buske told the youths about the break in, what the new center was going to be about, and how disappointed he was by what had happened. He said Lighthouse could really be something that would change kids lives forever. It all seemed to be brushed off by the teens who moved on. Later that evening, however, when the Lighthouse Board of Directors was meeting in the building, a couple of those same teens appeared at the meeting, confessed to the break in and theft, and asked for forgiveness. They also asked for another chance and pledged to help make the Lighthouse Youth Center a reality. The Board decided to give them that second chance, and a new positive partnership has begun.
Can you believe it? Before this youth center is even operational, it is impacting the hearts and lives of the youth near it. That speaks to two things: 1) the absolute need in the community for something like Lighthouse, and 2) the amazing power of sincere, Christian faith and love, when it is expressed and modeled for youth to see and feel. Garden Homes Lutheran Church and School and the new Lighthouse Youth Center are responding to the mandate Alderman Hamilton expressed. Let’s hope others join the partnership with him as well.
Dr. Joel A. Nelson, Principal
Garden Homes Lutheran School
2450 W. Roosevelt Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53209
414-444-9050 ext. 206