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Church funds give life to youth center

The Family Life Center has a pool, basketball court, volleyball courts, a stage and a sound system.

When Gulfview Grace Brethren Church raised $700,000, the church board contemplated building a new sanctuary but decided to spend the money on a community outreach Family Life Center instead.

"(We want to be) a friend to needy, young people, introduce them to their best friend _ Jesus _ and have them tell their friends and family," said Paul Poyner, 26, the church's youth pastor. "Our goal is to get the kids and their families in church."

The center is a two-story, 16,000-square-foot building. It has a full-size regulation basketball court, three volleyball courts, classrooms and a meeting room with a pool and foosball table. There is a stage and sound system.

Approximately 80 to 100 teens ages 13-19 meet Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.; Tweens, ages 9-12, and Kids Club, ages 6-8, meet Wednesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Three men, Rick Preslicka, Jason Brandy and Poyner, make up the group called the Three Gracemen, who lead the youth group with 25 other volunteers. Their name, says Poyner, means a cord of three strands not easily broken.

The youth leaders try to ensure every teen receives a warm welcome and feels that the adults genuinely care about them.

"The reward is seeing changed lives, where the (kids) were and where they are now. . . . I pray for wisdom daily, to know how to handle each situation with God's grace," Poyner said.

Thursday night's two-hour teens program consists of games, fellowship and snacks, praise music and worship time, followed by a lesson that changes from week to week. Everything is supervised. Posted on the wall are the Ten Commandments for the youths to follow while they are at the center. Each one contains a rule with a supporting Bible verse.

"Rules without relationship equal rebellion," Poyner said. "We want the teens to know we love them and want to develop a relationship."

A group of about 10 teens call themselves Virtuous; they are known as the core group. Poyner said these kids are "serious about their relationship with God." They reach out to newcomers, and they help set up chairs and clean up afterward.

Heather Elam, 15, recently became a member of the core group. She was invited by her best friend to visit the program about five months ago.

"After a week of going, I realized how important it was, and became a Christian," Heather said.

"If (kids) are searching for answers to questions, they should give it a chance," Heather said. "Things will become more clear."

Another member of the core group is Dustin Zerwas, 15, who attends Ridgewood High. He has been part of the youth group for three years. Dustin wants youths to know that the center is a good place to come and that people there really care.

"I enjoy sharing and talking about problems with the youth leaders," Dustin said. He plans to attend the Word of Life College to become a youth pastor.

When asked what one question he would ask other youths, he said, "If you were to go out tonight and die, do you know where you would go?'

The church pastor, Jim Poyner, 56, father of the youth pastor, believes the youths are the future.

"Kids are dying without the Lord," he said. "This is where the need is."