“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Colonel James Doolittle, WWII commander of Doolittle’s Raiders
You’ll get no argument from us.
From the very beginning the 3 Mile Project was designed to be dependent upon a committed and consistent volunteer staff. We knew that if we were going to keep admission affordable for the majority of young people, we’d never be able to pay all of the staff we’d need in our facility to ensure the kind of safe environment that is so vitally important to what we do here. Frankly, this staffing model is one of the things that most intrigues those from other communities who visit us as part of their effort to duplicate the 3 Mile Project in their own cities and towns.
We are blessed to have a large and diverse group of people who are passionate about investing in the lives of young people. From fourteen year old Zach to seventy-five year old Vern; from the Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team to the Kuyper College Merge Experience; from our dedicated and enthusiastic high school volunteers to the moms and dads who serve – we have the privilege of working alongside an extraordinary group of people who give of themselves to the tune of more than five thousand hours annually.
We can all do the math. Five thousand hours times whatever hourly rate you’d like to use plus benefits equals a significantly higher admission fee. But, more importantly, five thousand hours means a similarly impressive number of friendly smiles, high fives, listening ears, and words of encouragement. We rarely find out how such small kindnesses make big differences, but we know they do – mostly because of the times in our own lives when just such an act has made a profound impact on us.
Columnist Erma Bombeck once said that, “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another.” We get to see this played out, week after week, right in front of our eyes. We are humbled by and thankful for the hearts of those who serve here. This place doesn’t work without them.
– Stan, Executive Director
I was talking last week with a mom whose 6th grade son attends the 3 Mile Project. She was politely inquiring about our plan to flip-flop the nights we’re open for 5th and 6th graders and high school students and I could tell by our conversation that there was a question on her mind that she didn’t quite know how to ask. Finally, she admitted that her son had told her that the reason for the switch in nights was due to specific behavioral issues that we were experiencing with our high school visitors on Saturday nights.
I think the first thing out of my mouth was, “Oh my word, really??” I assured her that the reason we changed nights was simply because we wanted to be available to more students (please see our previous blog post). I think I also said something like, “If we were having those kinds of problems, how would changing the night change the behavior?” but, frankly, I was so taken aback that I’m not completely sure what else I might have added.
Because I’m so constantly surrounded by the good stuff happening here, I’m always amazed when I stumble across the occasional rumors and stories about this place that have absolutely no grounding in fact. But I also remember that game we played as children in which we whispered a story down a line of friends and were amazed at how different the tale became by the time it reached the end. That’s one of the reasons we’re excited about this blog. We’re hoping that we can address some of these misconceptions by openly and honestly sharing what happens here.
Here are some facts. We’ve been open for nearly 3 years and 3 months. In that time we’ve been visited by 14,463 different young people during our regular open hours (and a whole bunch more during rentals and other events!). Of these students we currently have a list of 32 who are not welcome back (less than one quarter of one percent of the total number of young people who have visited us). These 32 have been banned from future entry for a variety of poor choices, including fighting, theft, bullying, and destruction of property. The majority of these incidents occurred within the first few months of our opening during a time when students were figuring out how serious we are about our behavioral expectations.
We work hard to maintain a safe, positive, and loving environment here. Much of the credit for that goes to our staff and volunteers. We are blessed to have an amazing group of people who give of their time in an effort to create a place that is different from the world surrounding us. We’re not perfect. We’re not a part of every interaction or conversation that takes place here. But we are absolutely committed to doing all that we can to provide a place that is a refuge from all of the ugliness out there. Beyond that, the young people who visit us deserve some credit. They have bought into the idea that they have a responsibility for what happens here. And it didn’t take them long after we first opened our doors to start playing an active role in protecting their little sanctuary.
It’s easy for me to talk about how blessed we’ve been when it comes to student behavior here. But, as we’re often told, talk can be cheap. So don’t take my word for it. Come and spend an evening here with me. Or, better yet, sign up to volunteer and see for yourself! And, of course, if you ever hear any rumors about this place that concern you I’d love to hear from you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to answer your questions!
– Stan, Executive Director
Well-known American inventor and businessman Charles Kettering wasn’t far off when he said, “People are very open-minded about new things, as long as they are exactly like the old ones.” Change is a difficult thing for many of us simply because we’re comfortable with things as they are. Recognizing this truth – and taking a deep breath – we’re planning a pretty big change here at the 3 Mile Project.
Beginning with the weekend of February 13 – 15, we’ll be switching the nights that we host 5th and 6th graders and high school students. Our new schedule will be:
* Thursday evenings, 6 pm – 9 pm: high school students
* Friday evenings, 7 pm – 10 pm: 7th and 8th grade students
* Saturday evenings, 6 pm – 9 pm: 5th and 6th grade students
The reason for this change is simple. It’s our goal to reach as many young people as possible in our community – and we believe that this switch will allow us to do so. Specifically, we believe that more 5th and 6th grade students will visit us on Saturday evenings because it’s not a school night, and we believe that more high school students will visit us on Thursday evenings because there are not as many conflicting social opportunities available to them on that night of the week.
We’re not taking this change lightly. It won’t be easy for us, either. We have several thousand students to inform about their new night. We suspect that we’ll be dealing with a fair amount of confusion. And worst of all, there might be a handful of students who currently visit us that won’t be able to attend on their new night. But having spent a fair amount of time analyzing this switch, we’re convinced it’s the right thing to do.
President Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Fortunately, we’re not trying to do something as significant as change the formula for Coca-Cola or revamp the national health care system. We’ve learned some things over the three short years we’ve been in existence, and student attendance trends is one of them. Please bear with us as we continue to do everything in our power to make this safe, loving, and exciting community available to as many young people as possible.
– Stan, Executive Director
Whenever I meet new people and the topic of what I do for a living arises I get some pretty strange looks. Then, invariably, I get asked a follow-up question that goes something like this: “What could possibly make you want to spend your weekends with hundreds of other-people’s kids???” I’m not always sure what is going through the questioner’s mind at that point but, by their you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me look, I can usually assume that they think I’m either joking, crazy, masochistic, or worse. The question, though, is legitimate. Why do we do what we do here at the 3 Mile Project?
Growing up has never been easy. But we’re living in a time in which social media takes bullying viral, technology makes isolation common, media messages lead kids to believe they should be acting like grownups by the time they’re twelve years old, and our culture seems more intent on tearing others down than on building others up. It’s a tough world out there for our tweens and teens and, as a result, some of them are reacting in ways that far too often end up on the evening news. We are raising up a generation of young people that struggles with feelings of anger, isolation, loneliness, confusion, and hopelessness.
So why, then, do we do what we do? It’s simple, really. Our hearts break for these young people. And because we’ve been blessed to have been shown a better way, we feel compelled to share that good news with them. So we’ve created a safe, fun, and exciting place where we can earn the right to point our visitors to a way of life that leads to meaning, purpose, hope, and joy. Our primary tool is love and, by reflecting the love that God has shown us, we engage in a ministry of softening hearts. We’re not interested in pressuring kids or judging how they live their lives or acting like we’ve got it all figured out. We just want to be a little refuge of light in the darkness.
The risk of this whole blogging thing is that we end up sounding like a bunch of self-promoters, patting ourselves on the back and pointing to our jerseys after we’ve sacked the quarterback. It feels awkward to us. That’s why it’s taken us more than three years to really begin sharing our story. The truth, though, is that God has given us a heart for young people, a set of gifts and talents that allows us to effectively connect with them, the plan to put this thing together, and the resources to make it all possible. This opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people is not about us or because of us. We’re simply blessed to be a part of it.
– Stan, Executive Director
Have you ever awoken with one of those brilliant, potentially world-changing ideas that make you hop out of bed and write it down on the pad of paper you keep on your bedside stand? I had one of those ideas just this morning. “What this world needs,” I thought to myself while frantically trying to scribble out the words through my sleep-fogged eyes, “is another blog!”
I think we need another blog like we need more Washington lobbyists, more Miley Cyrus videos, and another rendition of the song Little Drummer Boy. The truth is that I find the majority of blogs to be self-absorbed, trivial, and poorly written. Why would I ever want to write one? And, more importantly, who on earth would want to read it?
But here I am, having been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of blogging. I’ve been convinced by those wiser than me in the ways of social media that we have an important story to share and that we’re being selfish by keeping it to ourselves. And I have to admit that, in an age when we seem inundated by bad news, there are some remarkably good things happening here at the 3 Mile Project. God is working in powerful ways and lives are being changed – sometimes dramatically but more often than not in smaller yet consistent increments.
So here goes. We’re going to try our best to use this instrument to celebrate the idea that what’s going on here is not about us. The things that we experience here on a weekly basis are way bigger than that. So I’ll do my best to avoid being self-absorbed and trivial. The writing quality? No guarantees. Our prayer, however, is that you’ll be informed and encouraged by the stories we share.
– Stan, Executive Director