MARQUETTE - After 16 years as director of youth and family ministries at Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette, Danny Stone is leaving behind a legacy of helping children.
Stone, who started working for the church in 1995, left Monday to take a similar position at Faith Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa.
Stone implemented a number of successful youth programs at the church including Homework Night. Before leaving, he took one last walk around the church.
Danny Stone, who worked for Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette for 16 years, recently departed for a a new position at Faith Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa. (Journal photo by Christopher Diem)
"When I started we had just this one room set aside," he said, gazing at a room that is now packed with donated computers, couches and an entertainment center. Colorful murals and pictures of children cover the walls.
When Stone first started, he participated in a healthy youth conference at Northern Michigan University while taking part in the Kellogg Youth Development seminar series. He was one of the conference's presenters and he talked about the services churches can provide in the community.
During a brainstorming session with a group of kids following the conference, they came up with Homework Night.
"What we discovered was kids needed a place where they could come and do homework," he said. "The first night we tried it was in September in 1995 and we had seven or eight kids, all high school age, show up. We had folding tables, no computers. We did homework and then talked afterward. They liked it so much they said let's do this twice a week."
Soon junior high kids became involved with Homework Night and Stone began writing grants and accepting donations of computers and other items. Volunteers, including students from NMU's nursing program, began helping out as well.
Soon Stone's youth programs had expanded to several other rooms in the church. He said church leaders never balked at allowing the kids to spread out more.
"People have been honored and excited and point to this program and they say 'The Bible tells us we need to show people what God's love looks like.' And this shows people. On homework night we don't talk about religion at all. But we act it. We can tell people about how to act but it's so much better when we show people," he said.
Stone said the first generation of kids he helped on homework nights are now brining their children to take part in the program. That first generation also volunteers as chaperones during activity nights, movie nights and all-night parties, he said.
Homework night, and other youth activity nights at the church, serves a variety of kids, including those who may be troubled. Stone said the juvenile court system has sent troubled youth to homework night.
"We've had kids that have shown up here because they've run away and they didn't know where else to go. We've had kids that show up here after funerals," he said. "I do get a little bit scared, sad and intimidated when I have kids that I've seen here for two nights a week for three for four years and some of them have told me 'You were much more of a father than my own dad was.'"
He said after 16 years at the church he started to feel like he was "hogging a wonderful opportunity and I knew there were people that could grow as I grew and do what I've done."
Michael Davis, who teaches at Bothwell Middle School, will take over Homework Night and Lisa McCarthy will take over Stone's other duties, including confirmation and Sunday school.
He said one of the most fulfilling things is to see children mentor other children and older kids who were in the program when they were young come back and help younger kids.
"And what I'm really confident about is that cycle is continuing. Mike is excellent he's going to have new ideas and find new ways to reach kids," Stone added.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.