Buckridge's outreach efforts are part of his new job as youth leader at The Den youth center, which is located above Mocha Jo's in downtown Monett. Buckridge, who has a bachelor of arts degree in theology, has a background in youth ministry, having served as the youth minister at Joplin Family Worship Center. He also has been a speaker at youth events and owned a successful marketing firm.
"In January God started speaking to me," said Buckridge. "He told me to just get ready, things were coming . . . and in August, I got a phone call out of the blue about The Den."
That phone call led to Buckridge being hired to oversee and lead activities at The Den, which just opened this year.
"My background is in nothing but outreach and creating a positive place for kids that is fun and exciting," Buckridge said. "My thought process has always been to show kids their faith is not a hokey thing, that literally it can be a fun thing and exciting. I also wanted to show kids that they can always overcome anything."
The administrative aspects of Buckridge's new job include coordinating and scheduling volunteers, recruiting volunteers, public speaking, fundraising and attending different events. He also spends time just hanging out with the young people who visit the youth center.
"When I am at The Den," Buckridge said, "I am literally the big older brother, the one that will organize the activities and say, let's play.
"The volunteers are the same way," Buckridge continued. "We have all ages of volunteers. Some are parents and some are even grandparents. A lot of our volunteers become extended family, and the kids love it."
Buckridge's desire to see young people succeed is rooted in his own childhood experience, which he describes as being classically "at-risk" with abuse in the home. At the age of 14, Buckridge decided he wanted to help kids like himself.
"I am a firm believer that you can overcome anything, that there is nothing to hold you back," said Buckridge. "For me, it was my faith in Jesus Christ (that made the difference) and I share that with everybody openly."
Buckridge said The Den is a faith-based, non-profit organization that is all about the kids.
"We offer a positive approach to get kids off the street and in a safe place where they can go and hang out," said Buckridge.
The Den serves all kids and should not be labeled as an outreach center for at-risk kids. Instead, the facility is a community youth center for area teenagers.
"We want all kids to feel welcome," said Buckridge.
Buckridge is currently developing several new character and leadership programs, including a junior staff program where older students, age 15 to 18, can help out at The Den in a more organized fashion. He also hopes to create a youth council to help plan promotions and activities.
In addition to playing foosball, pool and video games, kids can also use The Den as a place to do homework and to surf the internet on the facility's four computers.
"We are in the process of installing some new firewall systems," said Buckridge. "The kids cannot access anything inappropriate. It will be flagged and blocked."
Buckridge said he and members of The Den board are focusing a lot of their efforts on getting the word out to teens and parents about the new youth center.
"We want to create consistent top-of-the-mind awareness that we are here," said Buckridge. "We want parents to know that they can send their kids here.
"We want to create a safe place for kids . . . and a fun place," Buckridge added. "I will get out and walk the block, be at Mocha Jo's, go up and down the stairs to see where the kids are and what they are doing. These kids want to be loved, to be accepted."
Buckridge said The Den is all about relationships.
"Kids can come in and just be kids, that's it," said Buckridge. "They know that it is alright to be kids, we love them and encourage them through any issues and one of the ways we do this is by encouraging a faith in God."
The Den is open 3 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information about the youth center, call 635-1108. or visit www.monettyouthcenter.com.