It’s 3 p.m. on a Thursday and students make their way from Kelloggsville Middle School across Division Avenue to The Dock, a place that has become their late-afternoon home. They grab basketballs and are off to play hoops, start games of pool, or sit and string beads and play cards.
The Dock, which stands for Discipling of Christ’s Kids, offers somewhere for preteens and teens to go after school, a place where they can feel safe, stay busy and keep away from trouble.
They are welcomed with cheerful hellos and hugs, and many launch into candid details about their day. “Everyone here is like family,” said ninth-grade student Mandie Drew. “I can be myself here.”
A safe haven
The program was founded by Wayne and Sue Ondersma in 2005 as a drop-in center staffed by volunteers four days a week. The Ondersmas, who live in the district, have made the program a full-time job with the mission of being there for children in the Kelloggsville community. The program involves a strong partnership with the district. Students have created murals and tables in art class to decorate the DOCK, and the district is considering using space in the building for an online high school program. Between 60 and 80 students come each day.
Mandie said she knows the place offers a great service for herself and her peers. “After school, it’s keeping the kids out of trouble, you know? There could be gang violence going on; people can choose to come here instead.”
Wayne Ondersma worked at an electronics company for 15 years and volunteered in youth ministry before attending Kuyper College in Grand Rapids for pastorate training. He was ordained in the Reformed Church as pastor of Student Ministries at The Dock.
He said many of the students receive little support at home and face many challenges, including poverty. He sends many of them home with bagged meals through collaboration with Grand Rapids-based Kids Food Basket.
The Dock is located in a former brick fabrication factory that has housed many other operations over the years. It was extensively renovated in 2011 to meet the needs of the ministry.
Wayne Ondersma said he first thought of starting a program more than 20 years ago, realizing the need for a community center for children. The program continues to expand through more services. “Our dream is someday we might have counselors and other people that could come alongside the kids and work with them,” he said.
Kelloggsville Middle School Principal Tim Reeves said it’s a great place for students to go. “It is a nice connection for students to make outside of school with delivery of the kind of resources many of our students lack at home, from a nice non-denominational approach. Wayne does a great job of connecting with our kids.”
Seventh-grader Jayson Jennings said he appreciates the program. “I like how they respect us, and so we respect them back,” he said.