Youth center, ‘The Next Door,’ opens across from NKHS

The Next Door, a youth center for teens, has opened across the street from North Kitsap High School.

It held its grand opening April 10-11, and officially opened to 11-19 year olds April 13.

The youth center provides a place for teens to gather after school to do homework or relax and play games in a safe environment where they can build relationships with each other and trusting adults at the center. The Next Door will also provide resources for students involved in juvenile justice and teen parents.

“This space is a great place for students to come in contact with adults that care for them and are going to be looking into concerns for their education and for their social well-being,” said Bart Lesco, ministry director. The center is a partnership between North Point Church and Westsound Youth For Christ. “It becomes a great intersection for students and quality leaders – adult leaders that want to invest in their lives.”

Westsound Youth has run its Campus Life program on and off through North Kitsap schools since 1982 and originally operated out of the “red house” next to North Point Church.

“Campus Life was run here for about fifteen or twenty years, and then some staffing changes occurred so the program took a pause,” explained Phil Daubenspeck, Westsound’s executive director. “But we started it back up about five years ago,” after hiring Stu Biggler, who relaunched Campus Life at the middle and high school.

There have been calls to have the “red house” converted into a coffee shop for students, but according to the church the repairs needed are far beyond its financial ability. Instead, through a combination of nearly $30,000 in in-kind donations, collections and relationships with local contractors the church was able to work with Westsound to convert its office spaces into the youth center.

“This is kind of a homecoming in a sense,” Lesco said. “We’ve been doing ongoing ministry here but this is a great way for people to know and recognize it. When people showed up for the grand opening this weekend, there was a lot of people going like, ‘Wow you guys are still here; you’re still doing all this.”

Opening a youth center even in the best of times has its challenges, but opening one in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic presents even more. The hope is the Next Door will provide a safe place for students to socialize with their peers after being isolated so long due to the pandemic.

The Next Door is following all COVID safety guidelines.“At capacity we can fit 107, but under the COVID regulations we can safely have about 53 students in here,” Daubenspeck said, adding temperature checks, masks and social distancing are required as well.

<em>Ministry director Bart Lesco, Campus Life director Joe Koski and executive director Phil Daubenspeck.		 </em>Ken Park/North Kitsap Herald

Ministry director Bart Lesco, Campus Life director Joe Koski and executive director Phil Daubenspeck. Ken Park/North Kitsap Herald