It’s a project that highway travelers quite literally have watched come to life.
The River Oak Grace Children’s Ministry Facility is now open for worship. With the groundbreaking first being staged in late August of 2019, the close to 12,000-square foot facility has reached completion and is now abuzz with youth from infant age to sixth grade. It is on the property of River Oak Grace Church along Rodden Road, just north of Oakdale across the Stanislaus River Bridge.
The expansive, free standing building hosts two levels, with 10 rooms for the varying age groups, as well as a large gathering room, multiple restrooms, a check-in area and a large indoor play area which greets all who enter.
“We wanted to build this in a way that parents can see their children 360 and have access to them,” Senior Pastor Korey Buchanek said. “We designed it in a way so that it would be centered in the room but also have parents feel we can trust our kids to be in there, with however many people.”
The brightly covered indoor play area also includes separate play space for the younger family member, as well as an easily accessible restroom. Looking over the children as they play is a colorful scenic mural with characters Riv and Gracie, two rangers who take the children through the building in a playful way.
According to Buchanek, Riv and Gracie were the very first things created with a designer in Spain. The designer worked with them to cast a vision and drew the characters based on their vision of rangers in an outdoor park, which was inspired by Yosemite.
“Each room is designed and named based on the murals on the wall and the age progression,” Children’s Ministry Director Stacie Adams shared.
Following Riv and Gracie through the murals of the building one can’t help but notice the attention to details, including large windows which serve as means of light as well as highlight the surrounding property.
“We have a beautiful campus, we wanted to show off this campus just as much as this building,” Adams said.
The project, which was slated to take approximately 12 months to complete, was greeted by a hurdle once the pandemic hit.
“We knew the day would come that this would be fully utilized,” Buchanek stated on building during COVID. “Our concerns began to be about costs.”
Delays due to supplies, as well as labor proved to be unforeseen hurdles the contractor as well as Buchanek and his team would need to work through.
The pastor shared that during COVID they began to see costs skyrocket. A decision was made early on to allow those (in the trades) who wanted to work for their families and companies to give them that choice.
“Had we not done that, there would be a half-finished building sitting here today,” Buchanek said of the church members employed in construction that were invited to help with the work. “There were a lot of meetings in process saying hey what was on paper isn’t going to work.”
Now with the building open to the youth members, current COVID guidelines in place and the buzz of excitement which is a bit contagious, both Adams and Buchanek could not be happier with the end result.
“Our kids now are the ones dragging their parents to church on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights,” Buchanek said.
Once the building was complete the pastor shared it was turned over to Adams, to work her magic with her ministry partners. All in all, Adams shared a total of 60 ministry partners assist her on any given weekend.
“This building is specifically River Kids,” Buchanek said of the newly opened space.
“They’re the future and we want to invest in the future,” Adams added. “While they’re young and moldable, we want to pour into them just as much as we can.”
That being said, the duo noted that parents are allowed to walk their children through on the first visit. Beyond that they are met each time at that check in area by a ministry partner who escorts the children to the appropriate room.
The facility also hosts a total of 26 cameras, something described as important to protect the children, as well as ministry partners.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Adams shared on how it feels to be in the space with the children. “Hearing the laughter of these kids come down the hallways every single week. Just the joy, the singing, it is just breathtaking to hear. Just the excitement.
“Especially amidst the season we’ve been in,” she continued. “Something that they get to look forward to and have fun and build friendships.”
“I still don't think people believed me when we said, this was going to be something, because as we’re hearing from a lot of people ... there’s nothing like this within 50 miles of here,” Buchanek shared. “A church for children. There’s some churches doing some fantastic children’s ministry, but not necessarily building an entire building for the children.”
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been so rewarding,” Adams concluded.