In 1991, the Zeeland Action Coalition sponsored a Town Meeting to discuss the needs of youth in the Zeeland community. Much of the discussion–which included many students from the local area–centered around the need for more structured and supervised alternatives for youth during after school hours. People came away from this meeting discussing the need to build a community youth center for the Zeeland community.
It was from this meeting that the vision for the Bridge Youth Center was born. Studies and other research were conducted, including a local study conducted by the Search Institute, which surveyed a large number of public and Christian middle and high school youth in the Zeeland school district and the surrounding area. Among other things, this survey revealed some disturbing facts about the prevalance of drinking, drug use, sexual activity, aggressive/violent behavior, eating disorders, depression, and even suicide attempts among local teens. The study also unearthed a community-wide recognition of the need for a safe place for kids to congregate; a place that provides activities, structure, and security.
The individuals studying this need also discovered some other disturbing information–published by the Barna Research Group. This research demonstrated that nationally only 4% of youth have made a commitment to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. In addition, research also shows that the chances of making a faith commitment to Jesus Christ after the age of 13 are very slim. While local demographics suggest a somewhat better situation, recent community analysis still show that approximately 50% of Zeeland area families are not involved with a church. This suggests that more than two-thirds–perhaps upwards of three-quarters–of the youth of this area have not made a commitment to Christ.
These factors combined clearly demonstrate a powerful need for a local outreach-oriented community ministry center for area youth.
In 1997 the vision of the Bridge Youth Center became a reality with a 3,000 square foot ministry center based in a downtown Zeeland storefront.
The need for such a facility was exemplified by how quickly the Center outgrew that initial space. Within a short time, nearly 100 kids were being drawn in every day, and it was readily apparent that a specific, dedicated facility must be built.
The members of First CRC responded to this vision, and during the course of 2000/2001 raised money for and built a 19,500 square foot facility for the Bridge Youth Center adjacent to the main church building on Main Street in downtown Zeeland. This $1.5 million facility includes a full-size gym, recreational activities, big rooms to provide space for large numbers of youth, and separate private rooms for students to work on homework or meet quietly with friends or adults to discuss important issues. A number of formal programs are offered, largely staffed by community volunteers.