Skatepark rolls on faith

Deale church uses ramps as jumping-off point for youth ministry

June 21, 2006|By JONI GUHNE | JONI GUHNE,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A mission project to attract teenagers to the youth program at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Deale has turned into an area-wide outreach as the church considers ways to finance and build a community center for South County.

Two years ago, under the leadership of youth pastor Joe Heinrichs, the church allowed teens to skateboard during winter in the Fellowship Hall.

That success in attracting young people to the church led to installing some temporary ramps in the church parking lot where kids can skateboard in good weather.

As the ramps became worn, the church, the teens and their parents began raising money to build a skatepark. That success led Cedar Grove and three other United Methodist churches to explore building a community center, for which they have already acquired land.

Heinrichs, for his part, has used the opportunity to draw young people into the church.

Heinrichs "asked us to sit down for only 10 minutes, and he started talking about God," said Broc Reeves, 14, one of the skateboarders, "and I thought, `This is really cool.'"

"At first it was a little bit of a bumpy road," said Heinrichs. Having youngsters skateboarding inside the church and then out back was a bit much for a few of the church's 360- member congregation. But when the skateboarders began coming to the youth services, and then their families began coming to Experience, a Sunday morning outreach service, church members started to appreciate his outside-the-box thinking.

"Because of one kid skateboarding, the church gained a whole new family," Heinrichs said.

Broc, who lives in Deale, can't get enough of his favorite pastime.

"With skateboarding, you can go do anything you want," said Broc, who is home-schooled. "You can do a trick that you haven't seen before, you can go anywhere where there's cement."

The problem is that cement surfaces tend to be on shopping center parking lots and busy streets filled with vehicles whose drivers are eager to get where they're going - and not happy about having to dodge kids on skateboards.

"We skate on the streets," Broc said. "Cars honk horns; people get mad at you."

When Heinrichs realized the plight of South County skateboarders, he moved to provide a safe place for skateboarding and, at the same time, recruit participants for his Friday night middle school group and his Sunday evening high school group.

"I'm a firm believer in meeting the kids where they're at," Heinrichs said. So he and members of his youth groups "put up some skateboard stuff," he said, "and we doubled in size.

"As long as it's fun, healthy and moral," said Heinrichs, 32, "I'll try it."

Dannye Lyvers, mother of skateboarder Randy Lyvers, 13, said, "His friends, their friends and friends' friends" all came to the church to skateboard.

As the ramps began to fall apart, Heinrichs said, "We asked ourselves, what would it take to build a skate park ourselves?" The estimate is $15,000 for what has been dubbed Skate Park Phase One - a concrete pad and a couple of ramps. The church, the teens and parents like the Lyverses raised about $2,000 by preparing and selling food at local events, Heinrichs said.

The new ramps at the church got the attention of the skateboarding crowd - and the expanding flock got the attention of church leaders.

"I think it's great," said Bill Kline, 76, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who chairs the Cedar Grove board of trustees. "Joe is very talented. It all goes back to the competition you have going on outside the church. You have to do different things to attract young people, do whatever it takes."

"Skating in the Fellowship Hall was a safety issue," Kline said. "But it provided that opportunity to witness."

While working on the skate park project, Heinrichs said, "It dawned on us that what our community really needs is a community center, and that that could be the best way our church can serve."

The church formed a nonprofit company, South County Community Development Corp. "We're going to run that company, and it will be responsible for building the community center," Heinrichs said. Three other South County United Methodist Churches - Franklin, Centenary and St. Matthews - have become partners in the community center project.

The corporation recently signed a contract to buy a 15-acre parcel about a 1 1/2 miles from Cedar Grove. Corporation representatives have met with County Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly on how to apply for grants and secure other funds. The center's estimated price tag is $8 million.

The corporation also has sought advice from Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park. Woods Church undertook a similar project in the summer of 1995 when it purchased the financially insolvent Severna Park YMCA.

The former Y building is now a self-run community center. The center is preparing to break ground for Phase Two of its building project - a full-size gymnasium, dance studio, weight room, meeting rooms and new entrance, said Executive Director Patt Haun.

Cedar Grove plans to break ground on a 40-foot-by-40-foot skatepark within the next three months.

It has agreed to pay for materials for the concrete pad, and local businesses will help. Sunset Pool Co. is donating the equipment for construction of the pad.

See Through Windows has offered "a ton of financial resources," Heinrichs said. "They have promised to match what we raise.

"We will be happy to get through Phase One," he said. The second phase would be built at Cedar Grove or at the community center.

"The idea is to build a center," he said, "it's not just about Cedar Grove."

Skateboarders and their parents are conducting a yard sale and car wash from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Cedar Grove. The next fundraiser will be a dog wash and canine cafe for pet owners at the church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 8.

"With the skateboard kids involved in fundraising," Kline said, "they own a little bit" of the park.

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