Cross­roads GOAL program kids raising their hands. Facebook | Courtesy

Building rela­tion­ships with college-aged mentors can change lives for teenagers, whether time is spent playing foosball or having a serious talk about life, according to Dawn Rout­ledge, co-founder and director of oper­a­tions at Cross­roads Farm.

Cross­roads Farm, a min­istry orga­ni­zation ded­i­cated to serving rural teens in Hillsdale County, offi­cially became a GOAL program this semester, after a com­munity member approached Rebekah Dell, asso­ciate dean of women and the GOAL Program’s faculty adviser, about grouping it with the other vol­unteer orga­ni­za­tions on campus.

Cross­roads Farms serves middle-school and high-school stu­dents, pro­viding a safe, Christ-cen­tered atmos­phere for min­istry and rela­tionship-building. Approx­i­mately 150 stu­dents attend the program each week.

“It’s kind of like youth group, but you don’t have to go to church to come,” said sophomore Emily Walker, the Cross­roads Farm GOAL Leader.

Sunday night gath­erings include fun activ­ities and games, as well as music and a Christian-themed talk. Cross­roads Farm also added a tutoring session on Thursday nights so stu­dents could have a safe after-school spot. GOAL vol­un­teers will have the oppor­tunity to help with both the tutoring ses­sions and the Sunday night pro­grams. Walker said these tutoring ses­sions help build bridges for Cross­roads stu­dents beyond just their homework.

“They’re trying to provide help not only with their school work but just to give them a safe envi­ronment to go to after school,” Walker said. “It’s not uni­ver­sally the case that the homes aren’t a good envi­ronment, but for some, their home really isn’t ideal. To provide that extra time would be really neat.”

Although Cross­roads Farm only became a GOAL program this semester, Hillsdale College stu­dents have long vol­un­teered there since the program’s founding in 1999. Last year, 10 stu­dents reg­u­larly vol­un­teered at the farm, although this year, the number dropped to three stu­dents.

Walker said in addition to the weekly gath­erings, the program will also offer one-time vol­unteer oppor­tu­nities.

Rout­ledge said Cross­roads helps teens make good deci­sions by pro­viding them an oppor­tunity to encounter Christ and build rela­tion­ships with Cross­roads mentors.

“We really feel like when we’re engaging a student, every choice they make puts them at a cross­roads,” Rout­ledge said. “One choice affects a great deal of things, and we’re hoping they’ll under­stand that it’s a choice — it’s a choice for Jesus Christ, but it’s also a choice about whether you’re going to do your homework, or try hard at practice, or get along with your parents, even if they aren’t nec­es­sarily worthy of mod­eling.”

Cross­roads specif­i­cally min­isters to rural teens, who Rout­ledge said may struggle to find a mean­ingful her­itage.

“One of the things that’s lost in rural com­mu­nities is the rich her­itage they have, because gen­er­a­tionally, very few have a family farm,” Rout­ledge said. “To under­stand that where they come from has history and value is really important.”

Senior Allison Bie­ganek, who has vol­un­teered at Cross­roads since her freshman year, said Cross­roads pro­vides teens with a safe and accepting com­munity. Cross­roads vol­un­teers, she said, get the oppor­tunity to build rela­tion­ships with the teens and their fellow vol­un­teers.

“That’s one of the things I love, apart from the min­istry aspect,” Bie­ganek said. “They work to create a sense of com­munity among vol­un­teers and staff. They’re like family.”