Editor's Note: On May 26-27, Rocketown will be the focus of local and national attention as Jim Towey, the White House director of Faith-Based Initiatives visits Nashville. Click here to read more. 

It’s Friday night in Nashville, and scattered throughout the sprawling Rocketown complex, pockets of teens have gathered with like-minded comrades. The artsy types gravitate toward Empyrean, the cozy first-floor coffee bar. There, they play games, check e-mail, kick back on overstuffed chairs with mocha lattes, and take in the acoustic strumming of an emerging local talent. The Empyrean Stage is quickly becoming a hot venue for aspiring songwriters in Nashville. Poetry readings and art shows round out Empryrean’s offerings.

A few feet away, young fashionistas check out the latest threads at Driven, Rocketown’s boutique. It’s more than just a place to find unique clothing – Driven helps kids to develop a sense of style that defies cultural pressure. Budding designers showcase and sell their wares, thereby gaining valuable insight into the world of business. In addition, Driven offers a
T-shirt design class and modeling opportunities.

Around the corner, over a thousand teens are packed into
 the main music venue. Rocketown’s nightclub offers teenagers top-quality entertainment – hybrid dance music and/or live performances from local, regional and national acts – without the threat of alcohol and drugs. Level One is the dark, intimate, underground club where punk rock bands flail with abandon.


In another part of the complex, skateboarders ride and jump to their hearts’ content at the Sixth Avenue Skate Park. The 11,000-square feet of terrain includes vertical walls, ledges, rails, ramps and a five-foot capsule bowl. It has become the premiere spot for skaters, in-liners and bikers in Middle Tennessee.

Yes, it’s an odd assortment of humanity. Skaters, models, heavy-metal heads, dancers and poets – somehow coexisting under one roof. They’ve each found their niche at Rocketown – a place to fit in and be accepted for their very uniqueness. And doesn’t every teenager crave acceptance?

A recent Youth Risk Behaviors Survey shows that one in four teens have considered or attempted suicide. On average, 3,650 youth choose to die each year. More than one third have been sexually active. One in four have used marijuana and one in five have engaged in heavy drinking. “Many of the problems facing today’s young people relate to feelings of being disconnected and rejected,” explains Rocketown’s Executive Director Roger Thompson.

Founded in 1995 by Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith, Rocketown exists to foster relationships between disenfranchised adolescents and Christian mentors, in order to meet their social, physical and spiritual needs. The original facility, located in Franklin, Tenn., closed in 1997. But after the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, Smith renewed his efforts to find a suitable, permanent building. After several years of fund-raising and searching for a suitable property, the 40,000-square-foot entertainment and recreation center in the heart of downtown Nashville opened in early 2003.

With so much going on under one roof, and so many types of kids crossing paths, do sparks ever fly? According to Thompson, “These sub-cultures of youth are pretty distinct from one another and we’ve gone to great lengths to separate things out. That’s why the skate park is called Sixth Avenue, not Rocketown. The cafe is called Empyrean; it’s not Rocketown.”