- C Johnston
Matt Nance: Dream Maker
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Matt Nance, or “Mr. Matt,” is known in Beaver Falls, PA and far beyond as a tough, straight-talking man who loves the Lord and is dedicated to serving young people. He’s the Executive Director of Tiger Pause Youth Ministry, a non-profit Christian organization that cultivates community by providing an array of programs to help youth and their families. In short, Tiger Pause improves lives.
Mr. Matt’s road to Tiger Pause was a bit winding, beginning with the Marines. Mr. Matt laughs that he was a real savage then, and signed up so that he could be a warrior with a machine gun. While he didn’t get all the tough stuff in the Marines that he craved, he was on his way to a kinder and simpler life.
He was introduced to Christ and found a faith that saved him and changed his perspective. He had the same toughness, but a new love and new purpose. He was all about serving God and helping others.
He remembers that during this pivotal time, he prayed for God to show him what to do with his life. He was in his car and heard a radio commercial for Geneva College, a Christian institution in Beaver Falls, and decided on his new pathway. So, Mr. Matt started attending Geneva, and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in community ministry.
In 1988 Geneva’s Dr. Jack White, then Vice President and later President, and David Lichius, Director of Student Ministries, started Tiger Pause as a community outreach. Primarily a drop-in center, it connected college students with local youth.
In 2004, after Mr. Matt graduated and was working as a gym teacher at a local Christian school, Tiger Pause was in need a new Executive Director. Mr. Matt applied and got the job. At the time Tiger Pause was struggling and needed some new blood and new ideas. It also needed funding.
Because of this, Mr. Matt remembers that he didn’t take any salary for his first six months.
He says God blessed his labor and his commitment to serve, and allowed Tiger Pause
to blossom in many different directions in the coming years.
When Mr. Matt started at Tiger Pause, the annual budget was $65,000. Today, it is roughly $1,600,000.
There are now 85 staff members at Tiger Pause, with the median age being 22-23 years. Some are part time and some are full time.
Thinking about the early days, Mr. Matt talks about walking and praying throughout the neighborhoods in Beaver Falls, especially at the public housing developments. His dream was to start programs in those areas to reach more kids. Sure enough, he expanded the outreach programs to Morado, Pleasantview, and Harmony Dwellings to serve more youth.
When the First German Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue in Beaver Falls was for sale, he boldly asked the church leadership if they would be willing to donate the building to Tiger Pause. Initially the response was negative. “What could be better than to pack this building with kids learning about the Lord?” he asked the church leaders.
He prayed that if it would be God’s will, the answer would be yes. And sure enough, the church agreed to donate the building to Tiger Pause. Mr. Matt solicited expert construction help, and led the youth to reconstruct the building. It was perfect for their needs.
Mr. Matt realized it wasn’t enough to be in the after-school business with kids. While mentoring and playing sports, even sharing the good news about Jesus, was wonderful, Mr. Matt felt called to do more.
He had a dream to improve the lives of the young people,
not just leave them in the place he found them.
He never saw the dads of the kids he worked with. Just mothers. And the kids didn’t seem to know much about work. There was significant generational poverty and not much hope for a better life.
Mr. Matt started developing programs that would provide work opportunities for the young people in the area.
Tiger Pause opened a furniture store. The young people work, for money, to pick up furniture when it’s donated. And the furniture is then sold at the store to benefit Tiger Pause. The young Tiger Pause workers also provide a moving service to people relocating their homes or businesses across town or, within the last couple of years, even across the country.
Mr. Matt brings in professional tradesmen such as carpenters, brick layers and electricians to teach skills to young people. And those young people, working under the tutelage of the pros, realize the satisfaction of having a paying job. And they learn a trade for life.
Jacey is one such young man. He shares that he grew up on his own. There were times when he had no one to turn to, no food or water. His older brother and father were both in prison.
“I think a lot about how I could be where they are. Because I was almost there. And then Mr. Matt gave me the opportunity to start working.”
Mr. Matt and Tiger Pause helped Jacey on a productive path. “Without them, I wouldn’t be 19, with my own apartment, taking care of my little brother.”
And now Jacey tells younger people coming into Tiger Pause that the dream of a good life can be a reality for them, too. “If you work, these blessings can come to you, too.”
Mr. Matt walks alongside the youth to help them learn tangible life skills, trades that provide employment, and a work ethic to be productive people in the community. And the community benefits in many ways, starting with having kids off the street and earning their way.
Tiger Pause provides a skilled workforce for the community. The young people, trained in trades by professionals, take on construction jobs big or small to help their neighbors. Almost 80% of the money raised by Tiger Pause is from completing service and work contracts for organizations, residents and government agencies.
Unfortunately, time and poverty has taken a toll in Beaver Falls, leaving a number of houses in a dilapidated and unlivable state. Mr. Matt’s dream was to see them repaired so that they’d be back on the tax rolls and providing good homes for people in the community. So, Tiger Pause began buying and accepting donations of rundown houses and pouring work into rehabbing them. Project by project and then building by building, Tiger Pause has flipped 14 houses that are now homes.
A key part of what Mr. Matt and his colleagues teach young people is how men should be good husbands and fathers, and women should be good wives and mothers. “Too many of the young people don’t get that at home,” he says.
Petey, another young man in Tiger Pause, says his mother would be proud of him today. She passed away when he was in eighth grade.
“Mr. Matt gave me the best example of how to treat women and how to be sensitive and open up,” Petey says.
“Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser;
teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” – Proverbs 9:9
Petey explains, “Before going to Tiger Pause, we didn’t have someplace to express ourselves as young men. A lot of us didn’t know how to express ourselves.” But the Christian teaching and love made an impact on who they are and the path they are on.
Mr. Matt shares, “When I first came to Tiger Pause, the kids all had absentee fathers. Now I see the young men who’ve been through the program become dedicated husbands and fathers, raising their kids and loving their family.”
Four years ago, a plumber named Will Vason began participating in a Friday morning Bible study with Mr. Matt, and the entire trajectory of his life changed. Will started teaching the trade to the youth in Tiger Pause on his off hours. Eventually he was working at Tiger Pause full time.
Will spent quite a bit of time guiding the Tiger Pause kids as they renovated old buildings together to create good, usable retail space in downtown Beaver Falls. Will, a native of Philadelphia, had previously worked in the food industry and had a long-time dream of opening a cheesesteak restaurant.
When he and the Tiger Pause crew were transforming a storefront space on Seventh Avenue, he had no idea it would be his space someday.
Will shared his dream with Mr. Matt and received the encouragement and support he needed to get Chilly Willy Cheesesteaks up and running. The restaurant, renovated by Tiger Pause, provides excellent, affordable food, and a welcoming dining spot in Beaver Falls. Mr. Matt says it’s a great partnership, and he’s happy that Tiger Pause has grown enough to help incubate businesses that add to the local economy.
Will sums it up. “Mr. Matt makes things happen. He’s a dream maker.”
And Mr. Matt makes a lot more happen. He opened a splash pad in Beaver Falls to offer free recreation for local kids. He’s now working on expansion to a waterpark, including a lazy river, as a ministry for people of all ages.
He offers seven weeks of summer camp for local children, providing recreation and Christ-centered learning to 100 kids every day. And there’s a waiting list, with demand being higher than Tiger Pause can currently fill.
Mr. Matt’s dedicated assistant, Nahun Martinez, is from El Salvador. Tiger Pause sent a youth group on a mission trip to build a three-room building with a bathroom and kitchen in Nahun’s El Salvadorian hometown. Compassion International will use the new building for its kid-focused ministry. Mr. Matt and Nahun are also planning to run mission teams from the property to benefit the village.
It’s the same plan. Disciple kids in the way and word of God and teach them how to work, and they will be productive and impact their community.
There is so much to Tiger Pause, in its current state and in dreams of what it can be in the future. Mr. Matt invites people to discover more and become part of the ministry.
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.” – Psalm 90:17
More information is at https://tigerpause.net.