Crystal Keim’s goal is to see teens have a place where they can be empowered to fight for their dreams.
The 24-year-old Belton native wants to install vision, hope and purpose, among other things, into the lives of young people by providing a safe facility where they can discover their gifts and the self-esteem needed to achieve any goal.
“We’ve found that a lot of teens don’t even believe in themselves,” she said. “They haven’t been in an environment that has told them that they could do anything they want to do – or they’re so discouraged to even try. We want to empower them.”
While her dream is big, Keim and her husband, Matthew, 23, are planting the seeds for their ministry in the community they know best: their own.
Keim is a 2007 Belton High School graduate, and her husband is a native of Grandview.
“Our goal is to eventually have centers all over the United States,” Keim said.
When she was 16-years-old, Keim started a teen hangout in Belton called the “Nook.”
“The reason I started it was because I felt there were a lot of teens that weren’t living up to their full potential,” Keim said. “They weren’t achieving all that they could be and going after their dreams, so I started this as a positive place for teens to hang out.”
Keim said she didn’t have a big vision at that point, but after high school, Keim interned at the Los Angeles Dream Center, a non-profit organization with more than 200 different outreaches aiding the inner city.
It was there where Keim’s vision for Stacks happened, and she began plotting out her longterm vision and passion on paper: a 24-hour center for teens.
“We named ourselves ‘Stacks’ because we felt there were so many negative things that were stacked up against teenagers today,” Keim said. “We wanted to take those negative things and turn them into positive things for their future.”
Once she returned home to her Belton roots a year later, Keim started fundraising with her family to launch the Stacks Youth Project in Cass County and to gain non-profit status.
It was while working at the Goodwill when Keim met her future husband, who has also become her ministry partner.
“We got to talking one day and I found out that he had a similar vision before I even told him about mine,” she said. Not too long later, they married.
Since their ministry began in February 2009, Keim and her husband, who serve as the executive directors for the organization, along with a handful of board members, have worked with more than 400 students.
“We want students to succeed in whatever they want to do,” Keim said. “There are so many obstacles whether it be broken homes, finances, addictions or abuse – it’s limitless.”
Meeting in the back of her mother’s Stacks Depot antique shop on Main Street in Belton, teens gather weekly for a church youth-group setting called “MUM” – short for “Move Up Mondays,” as well as regular service projects and a variety of clubs, such as keyboard, creative writing, art and digital media.
Stacks isn’t yet open around the clock everyday, but the center has become a refuge for teens in need of support.
“We pretty much have something going on everyday of the week,” Keim said.
Keim said the main focus of their work is providing the interest-specific clubs.
“Our whole reason for starting this center was to empower teens to fight for their dreams,” Keim said. “If they have an interest they want to pursue, we want to give them the opportunity.”
Keim said one of her goals is to eventually have professionals volunteer their time to teach the clubs.
Stacks also has a large annual event they organize each year as another way to help their community. In a partnership with the Belton School District, Keim obtains a list of students in need or at-risk and selects a number of the teens to take Christmas shopping during the holiday season with a minimum of a $50 gift card.
The first year, Stacks was able to select four students in need, but this last year, they were able to take about 40 students. Stacks also gives each student’s family a bag of groceries.
At the center, Keim takes the time to know the youth visiting by name, and the teens give her their attention in exchange. In sorts, she’s become a mentor to young adults in the Belton community.
On Monday evening, about 20 teens gathered at Stacks for their weekly MUM as Keim shared a biblical lesson on serving others. Students come in at around 4 p.m. on Mondays, and stay to about 11 p.m.
Teens, seated on mismatched couches, while a few others made themselves comfortable on the floor, held their attention as Keim preached from the Bible about disciples James and John and servanthood.
After a movie clip illustration and a few more words, Keim had a pitcher of water and clear glass bowl brought to the front of the room, where she portrayed another illustration to bring their lesson to life.
“My heart is that I want to serve you,” Keim said.
Keim asked a young girl in the crowd of students to come forward as she wanted to wash her feet as an act of biblical servanthood.
After she was finished, she invited others to do the same if they wished.
Students brought their peers to the front, as others brought the organization’s leaders to the washing area, as well. After each washing, the pairs hugged, and those in the room clapped.
Nearly everyone in attendance followed, somberly, as worship music played in the background.
At the conclusion of the illustration, Keim reminded the students with one final thought.
“Thank you for serving,” she said. “Let this be something you continue to act out in other places .”
Not only does Stacks aim to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of teens, Keim is also hoping to improve the lives of young adults in the community by offering test preparation for obtaining a GED.
The program started last year and Keim was recently awarded a $3,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation that will aid in offering GED preparation in the fall.
“We started it because we saw a lot of young adults who were struggling with getting their GED and there wasn’t anything available for free locally,” Keim said.
Preparation will begin at the end of August and early September, and Stacks plans on using the funds to build a small computer lab area to offer the training.
“It’s important for young adults to get their GED because it helps them all-around in the future and getting a job,” Keim said. that obstacle.”
Stacks is still looking for more GED tutors, and will be holding a meeting for individuals interested at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1.
For more information about the Stacks Youth Project, please visit their website at www.stacksyouthproject.com.