January 1, 2024 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Joan Heckmann (center) turns and smiles while her husband, Carl, (red t-shirt), the executive director of The Way Christian Youth Center in Trigg County, prepares to lead volunteers in prayer. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

A place to ‘be,’ The Way youth center helps teens believe in Christ – and themselves


Seventh-grader Steven Bauman just recently moved to Kentucky from Tennessee, and while he may be a newcomer to The Way Christian Youth Center in Trigg County, Ky., he has already seen the afterschool organization foster his relationship with God.

“I moved here from Montgomery County in Tennessee,” the teen told The Western Kentucky Catholic on Nov. 16, 2023. “I enjoy learning how to respect (others), how to let God into our hearts, and how to pray.”

Bauman, one of about 70 teens who attend each day, added that his favorite part of The Way is the daily devotion – as well as “hanging out with friends.”

Fellow seventh-grader Payton Brown agreed: “I like hanging out with friends and learning about Jesus, at the same time!”

First opening in 2011 in a vacant grocery store building, and then moving to the annex of Cadiz Baptist Church for several years, The Way’s permanent home across the street from Trigg County Schools’ campus opened in 2017.

The nonprofit organization provides a welcoming space for local youth to hang out, play games, do homework, and – of utmost importance for growing teenagers – enjoy a hearty afterschool meal. Everything is free, with no exceptions.

The Way takes its name from John 14:6 in which Jesus states, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and abides by its motto that “We Encourage Students to Believe in Christ. And Themselves.”

The ecumenical organization is Christian-led, by Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers alike, but the doors are open to any teen from sixth through 12th grade regardless of their religious affiliation, said Marsha Petro, a volunteer and parishioner of St. Stephen’s in Cadiz.

St. Stephen Parish is one of approximately 40 of the 65 churches in Trigg County that supports The Way through donations and volunteering.

Petro said her parish has helped The Way since its 2017 opening at the current location, and she is pleased to see the community support from across the region.

“As poor as Trigg County is, when it comes to the kids, people give and give and give,” she said.

The volunteer base is also impressive, considering that “nobody gets a penny for being here,” she said.

Local teen Forrest Goodman (far left) is checked into The Way on Nov. 16, 2023, by volunteer Jerry Brown (center, checkered shirt) while fellow volunteer Joan Heckmann (far right) looks on. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Her pastor, Fr. Greg Trawick, appreciates how The Way has “allowed local churches to come together.”

“It’s been good to watch it grow and flourish,” he said, adding that his parishioners who are in high school attend The Way, and that “it’s been a positive thing for our youth.”

He said volunteering at The Way is a part of his parishioners’ DNA: “It’s a chance to support (the youth) and get to know them.”

Fr. Trawick welcomes the ecumenical efforts, too.

He said working with the rest of the community is “very energizing” as they draw together “to serve as Christians especially in today’s world,” said Fr. Trawick. “Helping, supporting, laughing, crying – it’s been a wonderful thing to see.”

Much of The Way’s success story is thanks to executive director, Carl Heckmann, who in turn gives all the praise to God.

“It really does build the Body of Christ,” said Heckmann, explaining that prior to The Way’s establishment, “there was nothing for the kids here.”

According to Trigg County Schools statistics, approximately 61% of Trigg students are considered “disadvantaged,” whether socio-economically or living in a one-parent household, among other criteria.

“Everything is free for the students,” he said. “And oh, by the way, we can share the love of Christ with them – to show them ‘the Way.’”

Heckmann said more than 300 students attend The Way each school year, and that they have seen more than 1,000 students since 2011. Daily devotions are led by pastors, laypeople, and other volunteers, and throughout the year special programs are offered on the sanctity of life, chastity, suicide awareness and prevention, and the dangers of drug use.

He said a variety of volunteer-taught extracurricular classes are also offered, such as cooking, music, sewing, carpentry, self-defense, work-ready job skills, and chess club.

In 2022, The Way expanded to an old tobacco barn next door, which was renovated and affectionately titled “The Barn.” This freestanding second facility provides a meeting space for local American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA scouting programs, as well as a teen clothes closet serving about 20 youth a week. (Youth are allowed to choose up to five free clothing items per week.)

The Way volunteer Staci Rea, (far left), a parishioner of St. Stephen’s in Cadiz, serves food to teen Kadi Quiggins-Oliver while fellow volunteer Dan Kostrzebski (center) assists, on Nov. 16, 2023. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Even with this second building, The Way recognized that it needed a larger space to continue serving its growing ministry. Heckmann said the nonprofit now plans to construct a third facility from the ground up, to serve purposes of discipleship and education.

Their plan is to build a 3,500-square-foot in the lot beside The Barn, and have two classrooms for faith formation and job training; designated quiet spaces including a library for students wishing to read or have a more peaceful environment; a prayer room and counseling area for Christian counselors to see students; and an area to show Christian and other uplifting films.

Having two buildings will provide two separate spaces for the high schoolers and middle schoolers, who currently must share the one facility.

And as with The Way’s main building and The Barn, this third site will be fully video surveilled for youth protection.

Heckmann said they estimate the new building to cost under $450,000. In fall 2023, they applied for and received a grant from the Catholic Foundation of Western Kentucky, which is funded by the Diocese of Owensboro’s annual Disciples Response Fund.

Matching $1,200 given by St. Stephen’s in Cadiz, the Catholic Foundation gave an additional $1,200 for the new building project.

Matt Shown, senior pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Cadiz, was one of the local faith leaders who encouraged The Way to consider applying for a Catholic Foundation grant.

“I am originally an Owensboro native, so I was familiar with the diocese and the work it has done,” said Shown, a board member of The Way.

Shown, whose church provides volunteer and financial contributions, said he is grateful for the ecumenical collaboration, “knowing we can do more together than apart.”

“The beauty of The Way is that it is interdenominational – rising water raises all the ships,” he said.

He added that besides the regular afterschool opportunities, The Way has become a fixture in the community by providing daytime programs for seniors, has served as a voting center and a warming center, and hosts blood drives and job fairs.

Amanda Oliver has volunteered here since her daughter, now a high school senior, was in sixth grade. Oliver considers all of “The Way kids” to be her kids, too.

“The Way gives us an opportunity to work together as Christian brothers and sisters,” she said. “We are a family with its ups and downs, across denominations.”

Her daughter, Kadi Quiggins-Oliver, said she met some of her best friends while attending The Way. Now as Quiggins-Oliver looks to graduating this spring, she said she would be open to volunteering every so often.

“I really enjoy how it gives people a space where they can come, a safe place where they can come,” she said. “A place where they can ‘be.’”

To learn more about The Way, visit thewayforteens.org or call (270) 522-6441.

On Nov. 16, 2023, Carl Heckmann explains that the area to the right of The Way’s “The Barn” building will be used to construct a third facility for the ever-expanding Trigg County interdenominational ministry. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
Send change of address requests to [email protected]