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Local after-school center working to create a cycle of change among in its community

New City Kids employs dozens of teenagers who lead students while learning workforce skills
New City Kids
Posted at 9:16 PM, May 23, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids nonprofit just received its second-largest gift in history. New City Kids announced it's receiving a $350,000 grant to continue its mission of "loving kids for change."

It's clear, the money is being put to good use.

Local after-school center working to create a cycle of change among in its community

We got a look inside at how New City Kids is making a difference in the community it serves.

On most weekday afternoons there's upwards of 80 children running around inside the converted church on Alpine Avenue.

On the surface, New City Kids is an after school program; a place for kids to hang out until they can go home.

When you really spend time looking into what's happening inside the walls, you begin to see the cycle of change New City Kids set out to be.

"A lot of my peers, they don't really have anything like New City," said Marshaun Townsend. "And a lot of them either end up in jail, or they get involved in gang violence and end up dead."

Townsend has been coming here since the fourth grade. He's now a junior and works here in the Teen Life Internship program as an assistant team leader.

"When I was a kid, I was like quick to anger," he added. "I couldn't really think through things without getting mad or frustrated. And working here for three years ... I've learned how to calm down and breathe and use critical thinking to solve problems."

There's four pillars of focus at New City Kids: music, spirituality, academics and leadership.

Christy Knetsch is the executive director. She's one of the few adults you may see.

"The work that we're doing here is really empowering our teenagers and giving them the tools that they need to lead and succeed here in our community," she explained. "The grown ups aren't in charge. The people who are in charge are the best assets our city has, which is our amazing teenagers."

Their operation is a cycle visualized by the logo. Knetsch explains that the Teen Life Internship is the reason the after-school center exists. It provides workforce development skills while raising up children in the center who look up to their role models, who can then stand a little taller knowing the program depends on them.

"Both of those two work together, and it creates this incredible circle of support for kids and families here in Grand Rapids," Christy said.

Marisol Gutierrez has taken what she's learned working at New City Kids and now works to change the community around her. A sophomore in high school, she's spoken to city leaders at city hall, GLC Live at 20 Monroe, and in front of hundreds at community events. She's using using the teens shared experience to change the narrative of the community around her.

"We all come from different backgrounds, like some of us are from the southeast side, which is not always the safest place. And you know, talking helps, because we're actually making a change," Marisol said. "Not only adults can make a change in the world, also teens and kids."

There are 53 high school teens like Marisol and Marshaun employed by New City Kids. There's also a 100 percent high school graduation rate since opening in 2014.

75 percent of the high school graduates from New City Kids went to college debt free thanks to a scholarship program through the non-profit that pays out depending on how long you've worked there. Also, 42 percent of kids who were who are employed in NCK were children in the program.

To learn more about the after school program or get involved as a teen intern, click here.

The work and fun continues for New City Kids during the summer includinga concert called Summer Jam, where the students and teens will perform for the community. There will be free food trucks for the first 300 people who sign up for tickets. There will also be five local artists coming to showcase their gifts and talents and open up for the New City Kids band.

More A Path Forward coverage.

Check out our list of community resources available to help in West Michigan.

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