- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - Lifegate Ministries wants to help change the lives of young people by providing alternatives to drugs and other destructive paths.

To do that, the church hopes to renovate its home and open a downtown teen center and safe space open to the community.

However, about $50,000 must be raised to make that plan a reality. Many of those who attend the church can’t contribute much financially to the project, so community contributions are being sought to help. So far, $645 has been collected.

The congregation currently is worshipping in the gym of Richmond’s former YWCA building at 100 N. Ninth St. It has a basketball goal in one corner, reminding members about the goal of creating the teen center.

Lifegate’s senior pastor, Mark Thomas, says the church needs to raise money to convert the former swimming pool into its sanctuary, and then the teen center would be created in the gym. They have a volleyball net and basketball goal and would like to stripe the floor like a gym floor.

Smarrelli General Contractor already has designed a floor cover for the swimming pool area, and the ceiling has been painted, but the project requires more painting, carpeting, building a platform and rewiring.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be a combined effort,” Thomas said about involving the community in the teen center project.

Thomas would like to get the project completed this year if possible. He projects it will cost about $50,000 to finish construction in both areas of the church and equip the teen center with games and supplies.

The former YWCA has been home to a few congregations and ministry programs in the past 20 years.

Lifegate was able to purchase its current home in December 2010 and has been making improvements as money and members’ time allow. However, the 35,000-square-foot building requires a great deal of maintenance and utilities.

The church previously was located on Salisbury Road.

“But we felt we were not where we belonged since we were so far from the heart of the city,” Thomas said.

The church’s mission is to seek and serve those who are lost, and Thomas said it’s hard to do that when they were far from those they wanted to serve.

“God opened up this opportunity for us,” Thomas said.

In five years, the congregation has increased from 30 each Sunday to an average attendance of 100 to 120.

Lifegate members also get out into the community as much as possible. On Thursdays during warmer weather, its street ministry team roams downtown.

“As dangerous as it might seem, we’ve been very well accepted,” Thomas said, noting some neighbors now are looking forward to the visits.

Members have prayed with people wandering by the church, and Thomas said it’s rewarding to help those who are hurting but sad to see what they’re going through. Some are affected by addictions.

Lifegate welcomed a motivational speaker last year named Tony McMullen, who described how he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, eventually becoming a drug dealer who killed a friend and spent years in prison. The Oklahoma resident now shares his testimony on how he went from death row to living for Christ.

McMullen’s talk helped open church members’ eyes to the seriousness of local drug and alcohol issues and inspired them to seek ways they could make a difference.

They’ve also listened to Richmond Police Department Detective Pat Tudor from the Wayne County Drug Task Force, who provided them with information about signs of drug use to look for and shared alarming statistics about local overdose deaths.

“We began to think of how we can stop the problem before it starts,” Thomas said.

Thus, the idea for the teen center was born. At first, they hope to have the center open a couple times a week. Eventually, they want to offer it as a safe place for those in need.

Thomas believes in the power of youth to make a difference. He mentioned a kid who started attending Lifegate’s youth group and that enthusiasm spread to family members starting to attend church.

“If we can get them off the streets, we can have an influence on them,” Thomas said. “Our desire is to reach teens before they get into problems.”

Thomas plans to tap the expertise of youth pastor Chuck Satterfield, who has extensive experience working with troubled youth.

The church already opens its doors to the community for a variety of programs, including a daycare and after-school program called Happy Heart Kiddie Kampus in the church from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

And it shares its building with a Hispanic church, Cielos Abiertos (Open Skies). Representatives of that church came to Lifegate about two years ago and said they didn’t have any place to offer services on Saturdays and Sunday evenings. Since Lifegate’s services are on Sundays and Wednesdays, they decided to share space.

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Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, http://pinews.co/1U8D6mM

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Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

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