The first year of college was tough for 19-year-old Zachery Moore. He moved five hours from home to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. Like many first-year students, he recalls it was a lonely time.
"I sat in my room all the time," Moore said. "I was going through some things in my personal life, a death in the family, and I needed someone to talk to."
His grades began to slump, and he was uncertain about remaining in school. A turning point for him was an invitation to attend the Wesley Foundation's monthly Club Night at "The Barn," where students crowded the dance floor and enjoyed free food, drinks and fellowship.
Moore, who will graduate in December, said The Barn ministry changed his life. "I made it through my first year and came back. I go to The Barn every day. If the doors are open, I'm there." In addition to Club Night, The Barn provides Bible studies, mission trip opportunities and monthly events that include talent shows, salsa dancing lessons and a coffeehouse experience.
The Barn was originally started by the Wesley Foundation to help curb alcohol-related accidents in the wake of a 2006 deadly car crash that killed six of the school's students, said Heidi Adams, director of campus ministries. The students were returning to campus from a nightclub located more than hour away.
"After that horrible accident, the campus ministry began to look for solutions to keep students safe," said Adams. "There are many things we do in ministry, but to make a safe environment where students can come and not be judged has proven to be very important in the lives of the students.
"We minister to them by showing love," she added. "The club environment brings them in and the safe environment and support system bring them back."
Simone Warren, a Wesley Foundation leadership team member, said The Barn ministry helped her grow in her connection with God and strengthened her faith. "I don't think a lot of the opportunities I have now would be placed in front of me if it wasn't for The Barn."
Each year an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related car accidents, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. April is designated as Alcohol Awareness month nationwide.
"We know that our collegiate ministries fill a void during the most impressionable times in the lives of students," said Gerald D. Lord, who heads the Division of Higher Education of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. "When local churches and parents can't be there for students, our United Methodist-related institutions make the difference."
The United Methodist Education connection includes 520 campus ministries among the 119 schools, colleges and universities in the United States. Visit http://public.gbhem.org/findyourplace to locate a collegiate ministry near you.
*Underwood is a communications consultant based in Yukon, Okla.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.