The Garden celebrated its grand opening in two special ways: a Consecration and Worship Service on June 2; and a Ribbon Cutting and Community Celebration on June 6. These events were attended by community members, St. Luke’s congregation, church leaders, city and county officials, board members, and partners across Houston. The Garden is a two-story, 52,000 square-foot community center designed around the interests and needs of one of the most diverse, and underserved communities in Houston. It will also house several community non-profit organizations which provide needed social services for area residents. The community center concept represents the vision to transform the city through youth engagement and community support.

Gethsemane Campus Director Julie Ellerbrock said the work to create The Garden began as part of St. Luke UMC’s strategic plan and is supported by a capital campaign and matching gifts from outside foundations. Initially focused on identifying new community outreach opportunities, Ellerbrock said, “It began when we had conversations around what’s next for us. How can we build strong relationships in the Sharpstown/Gulfton community that will provide collective and lasting impact? Then through a lot of committee meetings focused on prayer, conversations, and discernment, we collectively determined that we wanted to focus on youth, and we knew we wanted a special place for them. Through all the dreams, this space was imagined.”

The Garden emphasizes creating a supportive environment where young people can explore their interests and develop their potential. It aims to amplify the impact of existing youth programs and foster a sense of community and shared purpose.

Ryan Villarreal, Executive Director, added that The Garden aims to serve youth aged 11 to 24, offering a variety of programs and activities not typically covered in school curricula including practical life skills, financial literacy, and recreational activities. “The center is designed to be inclusive and welcoming for youth of all faiths or no faith.”

Villarreal said youth will be able to gather in The Garden and pursue experiences as they choose through various classes on offer. “The Garden seeks to be a bridge for youth, a place to have conversations and experiences that they may not be receiving in their academic or home settings. We want to be a place where youth discover the answers to life questions, both big and small, from how to change your tire to who I am. The concept is that a young person will be able to curate their own experience and chart their own path.”

All young people are invited. “Youth can become members at no cost. All interested youth are invited to complete our membership process, which includes forms and an orientation session. During this session, youth learn more about our mission, vision, and community expectations and sign a commitment letter expressing their willingness to uphold community values and expectations,” Villareal concluded.

The Garden builds on St. Luke’s existing community partnerships and outreach efforts. It collaborates with local schools, nonprofit organizations, and community groups to provide a broad range of opportunities. Key partners include Connect Community, KIPP schools, the YMCA, Legacy Health Care, and Small Steps Nurturing Center. For more information or to get involved, interested parties can visit The Garden’s website https://thegardenhtx.org or contact Ryan Villareal directly at: .