Highland Park United Methodist Church’s nearly decade-old theater program for older teens and adults with disabilities started with a straightforward question: If you could be anything, what would you be?
(ABOVE: The new Tolleson Center at Highland Park United Methodist Church features a 450-person worship center, gaming and lounge area for the youth ministry, and an entire first floor dedicated to its disABILITY ministry that is highlighted with a pie and coffee shop. Courtesy photo)
The woman behind the question, Sue Ringle, was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy a few years ago and died in June 2018. But her memory and the Spotlight Academy productions where everyone gets to be the special person they want to be will continue to flourish.
“We find that every year we have more and more people who come to see this because it’s such an incredible program – you laugh, you cry – but also we have more people from the community that would like to be a part of it, and we were just running out of space,” said the Rev. Susan Robb, senior associate minister at the church.
In late March, the church opened the door to the Tolleson Family Activity Center, a state-of-the-art building across the street from the main campus that will allow several growing ministries to expand, including Belong disABILITY.
“Four years ago, we started dreaming about what we were going to do to celebrate our anniversary.” -The Rev. Susan Robb
HPUMC’s centennial capital campaign funded the $38 million building. The three-story activity center also provides needed space for the church’s youth and wellness ministries.
“Four years ago, we started dreaming about what we were going to do to celebrate our anniversary,” Robb said. “Let’s not waste the opportunity to think big because 100 years doesn’t come around often.”
At the center of the first floor, which is dedicated to the disABILITY ministry, is Chance’s Kitchen. The pie and coffee shop was established by Hal and Christi Urschel in memory of their son, Chance, who loved to make pies with his mother.
“It brought him great joy to give to others,” Christi Urschel said.
Her son had trouble with his motor skills, couldn’t walk or talk, and was bound to a wheelchair, she said. “It was so hard for him to try to hold onto a spoon, but we very quickly learned that it was very motivating for him to be in the kitchen and try to use a spoon and actually make a pie.”
Robb said Chance’s Kitchen will open to the public in August.
The first floor also includes space for The Feast Service, which accommodates those with special needs every Sunday, plus a sensory room and motor movement room.
The second floor serves the youth ministry and includes a 450-person worship center, lounge area, glass-enclosed office, and small group space, a small stage for performances, a slushy machine, and a gaming center that houses ping pong tables and a rare Killer Queen video consoles.
Robb said the idea is to make the activity center a place where youth want to come throughout the week instead of only on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
A state-of-the-art full basketball court and a 450-seat worship multi-purpose room are on the third floor.
Underground, there are 130 parking spaces for the growing community.