Among the goals on the Pathway to Student Success is one that reads “Every student will feel accepted”. The Ground Floor fills that need for the students who walk through their door. This story, written by Amanda Dosen Windorski, originally appeared in the 2012 “At Home” report, distributed to residents of the Grand Rapids area.

The Ground Floor

The Ground Floor offers many activities for teens in a safe atmosphere free from intimidation or anxiety: a snack bar, homework help, pool, foosball, darts, movies, video games, and DJ and band nights.

Sitting in a booth in a grey sweatshirt and jeans with wisps of light brown hair brushing his forehead, his soulful eyes searched for understanding as he spoke, “I just turned 18 this week.I’ve got one year left here. Then I don’t know what I’m going to do. This place is a home for me and some of the other kids. We can get away from the stresses of our lives for a little while. Kimmy, Roger and Shannon understand us. Here, it is okay for us to be who we are. That kid plays guitar and rides a skateboard, she’s in speech and I write poetry. But, here, none of us are judged. Here we feel loved.”

“Here” is the Ground Floor, a drop-in youth center operated by Itasca Youth for Christ. “While it is a drop-in center,”states Roger Hopperton, manager of the Ground Floor, “our purpose is very much intentional.”

The Ground Floor is open to teens ages 13-18. Statistics for those who are regulars are staggering. One-third don’t have a niche with other organized school activities, one-third are looking for a positive influence and caring environment outside their homes, and one-third have made or are making bad choices and are looking for help.

“But,on DJ or band nights,” said Roger,“the kids in here look like a crowd at themovie theater. There isn’t just one type.”

Twice each week, a nationally recognized, eight-step, self-help program called “Life Hurts, God Heals” is offered to the teens. Based on Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12-step program, it is for more than drug or alcohol addiction. “Some of these kids are just hurting,”said Kim Hopperton, Ground Floor staff. “Maybe a parent has died, maybe they are struggling with an eating disorder, maybe they feel unloved or that no one understands them. Sometimes we are able to help before the problem gets worse. Whatever the case, we work hard to earn the right to have these kids share their lives with us – to get to really know them, understand them and love them.”

The staff of the Ground Floor, Roger ,Kim and Shannon Tibbetts, run a strict ship. No cursing, bullying or intimidation, and absolutely no drugs, alcohol or weapons are permitted. They have reported offenders both inside and outside the property to the police. The staff stresses the Ground Floor is a safe environment with a welcoming and fun atmosphere.

“By showing care and offering love and encouragement, we are able to help boost [the teens’] self confidence,” said Roger. “With a sense of worth – a sense of being – that they often don’t get anywhere else, these kids want to do better. They want to graduate, continue on with school, get a job, have a family and break the cycle. When they see that the community cares for them, they want to give back,” added Kim. “It is easy for people in the community to make judgments based off of what they hear or see when they drive by,” said Shannon. “Don’t judge. Open your mind and your heart. Come in any time and see for yourself what we are all about.”