It has been five years since Rev. James Buske opened the doors to the Lighthouse Youth Center, in Milwaukee, Wis. Now, the youth center ministry is expanding with a second location.

Lighthouse was started by Redeemer Lutheran Church in Milwaukee’s north-side Havenwoods neighborhood to reach out to the area youth. Over the five years, Buske says about 21,000 students have walked through Lighthouse’s doors.

“It’s important because no one else is doing it,” says Buske. “There’s no one else doing it in Milwaukee – focusing on Jesus. There are places that provide kids a safe place to get together and to get help with their homework, but often those are fee-based and very few, if any, are sharing the love of Jesus. We are able to meet a community need, an individual need, and more importantly, a spiritual need.”

Garden Homes Lutheran Church in a more central Milwaukee neighborhood is letting the Lighthouse ministry move into a 13,000 sq. ft. school building rent-free. The school building is currently vacant after the church built a new school a few years ago.

Pastor Jeremy Mattek from Garden Homes is looking forward to this outreach opportunity in his neighborhood. “There are literally thousands of teenagers in our immediate community and not one youth center to serve them,” he says. “The decision to create a center where the balm of the gospel is applied to the broken and hurting hearts of our community youth was an easy one. We simply needed a strong, gospel-minded partner like Lighthouse Youth Center to help make it happen.”

Lighthouse had its own version of “Extreme Makeover” this summer, with about 200 people from area congregations and the community helping to clean out the Garden Homes building. The volunteer crew filled three dumpsters donated by the Milwaukee police department. With the building cleared, it is ready for renovations, including moving a few walls, updating the plumbing and electrical, new lighting, fresh paint, and new flooring. Buske says the plan is to open the second Lighthouse location by November this year.

In addition to homework help and social time, the students are offered a 30-minute Bible study every day and an abbreviated worship service on Fridays. All students attending the youth center are also asked to sign a character contract to continue attending the center.

Mattek says, “I’m looking forward to introducing them to the God who formed them in the womb, redeemed them, restores them, and holds them safely in the palm of his hand.  I want them to feel safe – in the way that only God’s children can.”

Attendance is mainly driven by word of mouth among the students, who are asked to show new visitors around and explain the character contract to create an atmosphere of a student-run center.

Buske hopes the second Lighthouse location is just the beginning in expanding the youth center mission.

Find out more about the Lighthouse Youth Center.