Koinonia Theatre Offers Free Outdoor Movies for Families

For years, Riley resident Velder Booth has been purchasing equipment for what would become a mobile, outdoor family theater. There were supplies for a small trailer-turned concession stand, a PA system, and an inflatable screen. 

“I had been wanting to do community events to draw us closer together,” he said. But at first didn’t know what that looked like. 

An electrician by trade, he’d been doing odd jobs to help those in need, then saved the funds or goods he was given in payment, including the flatbed trailer. 

“A guy gave me a beat up yard trailer for payment and I’ve just been fixing it up little by little,” he said.

Then, the idea of outdoor movies hit home, with the trailer offering up drinks and snacks, all of which would be free. 

“In small communities, there are families who are hurting. They are struggling so it was really important that everything be free,” he said. “It’s been really cool to see some of these hard-pressed families out there having fun.” 

Booth’s theatre partner and girlfriend, Kelsey White, a Family Service Worker with Little Learners Childhood Connections and Registered Behavior Therapist with Kansas Behavior Supports, has helped him plan and build the venture for the past year. 

They hosted their inaugural showing on May 26th, showing Zootopia to about 80 people in the Riley Park. White said they ran out of popcorn and served 100 cookies and 5 gallons of lemonade. 

“It was so great to see the smiles on all of those kids faces and their family’s faces,” she said. 

Donations are accepted by those who want to give, but aren’t required. Funds help buy future concessions, or anything else the operation may need, Booth said. Adding that some families mentioned they wish they could donate but weren’t able. 

“Each time I said ‘But hugs are free!’” he laughed. “And I would get the biggest hugs from these kids.” 

The pair joked that they know they’d “made something cool” when they saw teens taking selfies in front of their concession trailer. Decked out in stringed lights and hosting an old truck topper for a ceiling, the mini-camper also serves as their equipment storage when traveling to/from the movie setup. 

What’s in a Name?

Booth said Koinonia Theatre (kwin-uh-nay-uh, which means “to fellowship” in Greek) was paid for by the Riley Community. 

“I tell them, ‘You guys actually bought and paid for all of this, it was your money.’ I just spent the money a little differently,” he said. In total, about $5,000 was spent on movie equipment and refurbishing the trailer. 

Booth said the want to help comes from his Christian faith, which he established about three years ago. 

“I wasn’t looking for God at all,” he said. “It took me being broken down, I had a group of guys praying over me and I was healed.” After a doctor telling him he would have to completely change his lifestyle post-surgery, Booth carried his crutches in to his final appointment; the doctor told him he was “a miracle.” 

“After that I never went back to the person I used to be. No drinking, I’m always doing ministry stuff and I just want to help people.” 

Booth also helps with Camp LIT, saying his background allows him to connect with kids in need. In and out of foster care for the duration of his childhood, he says the way he grew up “wasn’t typical.”

Now, he’s making up for lost time with the brother he didn’t get to grow up with – Thomas, also strong in his faith – and the pair said they follow scripture to help the community. 

Koinonia Theatre starts with a short message to “kick of the fun,” Booth said. 

“I only talked for about five minutes but I want to get across to them the reason I was doing this and why I tried so hard,” he said, citing 1 Thessalonians 5: 9-11. “I see those kids every summer just wandering around. But if you pour yourself into the community, the kids will see that. They will become more abundant and they will grow up to do good things.”  

The next showing will be at the Leonardville Park on June 8th. The movie is weather permitting and will be started at dark.

“God does cool things when you get yourself out of the way,” White said. “We cannot wait to do it again because I know next time it’s going to be way bigger; I’m going to have to make way more cookies.” 

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