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'Kids need a place to belong': The Den in Oak Grove provides safe spot for teens to gather

The Den adjusts hours for the summer
Posted at 6:02 AM, May 29, 2024

KSHB 41 reporter Claire Bradshaw covers portions of eastern Jackson County, including areas like Blue Springs and Independence. If you have a story idea to share, send an email to Claire at claire.bradshaw@kshb.com.

An Oak Grove after-school program is adjusting its hours for the summer.

The Den will open Wednesdays during the summer from noon to 2 p.m.

The program was originally started in downtown Oak Grove a few years ago by Stephanie Fidler. After the pandemic, Tracy Carpenter took it over and moved it inside Grace United Methodist Church.

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The Den provides teenagers, ages 13-18, fellowship, mentorship, and a break from school and home.

“Kids need a place to belong," Carpenter said. "If they don't have a family at home, they're going to make a family somewhere, and I want it to be a safe family here."

The space is more than just a hang-out spot. Tutoring, counseling, games, group activities and meals are available at the space, too.

Plus, teens have access to a clothing closet that runs off of donations, a washer and dryer for laundry and a shower with hygiene products.

“I don't think we, as adults, realize what these kids go home to. I don't think we realize sometimes that maybe there's not a whole abundance of food there," said Cathy Bird, Den leader. "Or they might not have access to laundry, soap or things like that. And just providing these basic needs kind of makes me feel better to be able to help them."

Bird and Carpenter are licensed and have experience working with teens.

Bird spends time in the puzzle room, which the teens use as a quiet space. She also helps them with their homework as a way to support their growth into adulthood.

“Kids think that when they go to school and they come back out that they’re done, but learning continues," she said. "We want to sneak all that in the best we can."

Carpenter and Bird also approach hard conversations: bullying and drug use. It hits close to home for Carpenter who lost her son Andrew to fentanyl use in 2017.

“I really wanted a place for kids to feel safe, a place for kids to realize that there are other things that they can do that they don't have to turn to drugs,” Carpenter said.

The summer hours may be expanded if enough demand is there.

The Den functions off of volunteers and donations. If you want to volunteer or donate teenage clothing or hygiene products, call Grace United Methodist Church at 816-690-3012.

Other churches in Oak Grove support The Den, and it is open to teenagers outside of the city.