Virginia ministry creates community leaders through mentorship

Chesterfield, Virginia

XZone is a ministry in Chesterfield, Virginia, that works to empower local youth who might feel unloved or neglected. Nearly every element of XZone’s approach comes out of the desire to reach more students through mentoring in afterschool, summer, and sports programs.

“We exist because the teens in society need as many strong adults as they can,” said Katie Rhodes, XZone academic coordinator. “They need adults who are going to love them when it’s hard.”

XZone was founded in 2003 when a local mother at Southside Church of the Nazarene saw the need for an afterschool program. More than 15 years later, an average of 55 to 60 children and teens attend the afterschool mentoring program, while the summer activities see an average of 87 students. Sports programs, which include volleyball, softball, and baseball, involve more than 250 students.

“Our mission is to go where they are,” said Steve Harper, XZone executive director. 

At XZone, mentoring goes beyond homework help. Volunteers build relationships that act as models for students, providing language that empowers them to appropriately express what they’re feeling appropriately. 

“A lot of those students are learning how to use their own voice and learn what they’re thinking, but [their home life] doesn’t always support that,” Rhodes said.

Michael* has been attending XZone for two years. When he was younger, his mother had to get a restraining order against Michael’s father after he threatened her life. Since then, she has been raising Michael single-handedly. 

Michael still struggles with anger toward his father. While he couldn’t always express himself to his mentors, he’s now more able to share what he is thinking and feeling.

Krista* has been at XZone for three years. Her father is addicted to drugs, and her mother felt she had no choice but to work as an escort. Often, Krista was left to care for her younger brother in the small apartments or hotel rooms where they lived. 

“We didn’t grow up as bad as it sounds like we did, but it was hard taking care of my brother and handling my mother’s instability,” Krista said.

Eventually, Krista’s mother lost custody of both children. Since then, Krista has become a leader of her peers, encouraging them and spending her time caring for them. 

Rhodes says that transformative experiences and love like Krista experienced are why she continues to work at XZone. 

“The reason I do what I do is because Jesus chose to come love us when we weren’t lovable,” Rhodes said. “All too often, tough kids who really need to be loved feel unlovable.”

The mentorship program also includes many service projects, giving students opportunities to develop job skills and give back to their community.

“XZone encourages students to see the big picture — that we’re all seconds away from needing the support we’re providing — so we give back to our community to see it thrive,” Rhodes said.

Right now, XZone leases acreage on the property of Southside Church of the Nazarene. Some of those acres are currently serves as a paintball and airsoft course. Harper hopes to develop something much larger someday. XZone and Southside hope to build a community center on the property that would be full of activities for students.

Beyond the community center, Harper has even bigger plans, all of which support the same goal to mentor and love teenagers, teaching them to love others as well.

*Children’s names are changed for their protection.

--Republished with permission from the 2019 Issue 1 of NCM Magazine

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