Expanding Youth Center – Urbana Daily Citizen

The Urbana Youth Center, a project of the local GrandWorks Foundation, has been open for over a year now and is preparing to significantly expand its facility.

Serving middle and high school students in Urbana, the youth center has regularly renovated the old Champaign County Library building on West Market Street.

During an open day on December 9 that brought together participants from the youth center speaking to community leaders from the city, county and schools in the city of Urbana, the executive director of the youth center, Justin Weller, unveiled plans to expand the facility after students and staff took to the auditorium stage and explained how the center only changed the trajectory of young lives during its first year of activity.

The founders and staff of the center explained how hundreds of young people participate in the various activities based at the center. It’s open two days a week, but the goal is to be open more days a week as the facility grows.

Students found refuge, camaraderie and a sense of purpose through activities like homework help, group recreation and field trips to places like animal shelters and local workplaces, according to presentations made during of the open house. One particularly poignant story detailed the experience of a student who urgently sought advice from staff at a youth center during a grim crisis in life. Staff spoke of how grateful they were to be able to help a young person during a time of extremely desperate emotional need.

Weller reiterated that such stories at the youth center are multiplying much faster than the current facility can accommodate. Weller detailed the discovery of a participant at a youth center napping in a chair, only to learn that the youngster did not always have a specially designed bed for him at home, which interrupted his rest. Stories of a lack of home grounding for some young people are heartbreaking and underscore the importance of a place they can turn to for help, staff at the youth center said.

Weller explained how demand quickly outstrips supply, as young people enthusiastically seized the opportunity to get involved in the center. As an example of youth engagement and institutional responsibility, the liquid refreshments offered during the open house to visitors were served in glasses and not in disposable cups. Young people are invested not only in the use of the facility, but also in the dishes afterwards – the wide range of glasses being offered as an example of this sustainable cycle of learning and resource development.

“We envision a total investment of around $ 2 million throughout 2022 to expand the youth centre’s current footprint by adding an east and west wing,” Weller said. “These plans are inspired by what the library planned to do in the 1980s.”

Instead of renovating the old Market Street building, the library moved to a larger structure in a former supermarket building on the east side of Urbana. Since then, the old library building on Market Street has been used by a private owner before being sold for use as a youth center.

Weller said $ 1.5 million is the amount the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will provide for the addition of the Urbana Youth Center facility through their Capital Youth funds. Resiliency.

“We have had discussions with entrepreneurs and expect that the remaining balance of around $ 500,000 will be acquired through in-kind donations,” he explained.

The youth center has approached relevant city boards about its construction goals, which include groundbreaking in April 2022 and starting use of the new spaces at the end of the fall or early winter next year. Weller said the plan is to continue most of the operations at the youth center while the expansion project is underway.

“Our expansion plans have already been presented to the City’s Design and Review Council and the initial concept we presented has been unanimously approved,” Weller said. “Based on the group’s feedback, we’ve made some adjustments and will be revisiting the board to share the changes. Fortunately, zoning shouldn’t be an issue depending on our use of the structure and location of the facility.

Gather for a purpose

The major industrial employers in Urbana quickly provided financial support to the youth center with the aim of developing the future workforce and helping to ensure the stability of a generation from very diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Weller is trying to muster more community support to ensure operations and future growth.

“It is a testament to the importance of this project that the mayor of Urbana, the county commissioners of Champaign and the Urbana Schools School Board were represented at this (open house) event,” Weller said. “Each of these groups will receive an official request from the youth center for financial support.”

Weller explained how the youth center is in fact an investment in the future viability of the community.

“The reality is that our city, our schools and our county all benefit from the services we provide to students. In fact, according to national research, every dollar invested in after-school programs will save the community three or more dollars in the future. If each of these three entities can only commit $ 5,500 per month, we can fund our full suite of programs for 2022. This one-year investment will save the community at least $ 590,000. The Logan and Champaign Counties Mental Health, Addiction and Alcohol Services Board is a prime example of a public entity that has stepped up its financial efforts to help serve the students at the youth center, ”said Weller.

“Other community leaders who are not part of these groups can also help by providing financial support, volunteers to help with programming or in-kind support like providing meals. The Caring Kitchen and Mercy Health Urbana Hospital are prime examples of organizations that are already making a difference at the youth center by providing free meals to students at the youth center, ”he said.

Weller specifically noted private sector contributors Bundy Baking Solutions, Rittal and Park National Bank leading local business efforts to provide financial support to the youth center.

“The message is this: everyone has a role to play,” he said. “We need all of our community leaders to proactively develop ways to support the development of these 550 children who will be our future leaders and workforce. “

Maintain a dynamic population

According to data presented by Weller at the open house, without intervention such as that undertaken by the youth center, the community could lose thousands of young people in a potential exodus over the next decades as part of a plunge of the local population expected.

“It will take ambitious thinking to avoid the loss of approximately 7,000 people in Champaign County over the next decade, as predicted by the Census Bureau. This is a significant loss for a county of 40,000 people, ”said Weller.

One solution he proposes is to extend the success of the new youth center by helping to establish similar structures in neighboring villages and in the neighboring town of Bellefontaine.

“I sincerely believe that the first thing we can do to prevent and even perhaps reverse population decline is to invest in our young people. They need to know that our community values ​​them and wants each of them to find a good career here at home, ”said Weller.

“Yes, it is ambitious to launch satellite locations in Champaign and Logan counties. It is also necessary. Whether we can establish these facilities will depend on local leaders, especially elected officials. If they join us in embracing an ambitious future for our youth and our communities, then we absolutely can make it happen.

Urbana Youth Center Executive Director Justin Weller presents an image of the facility’s planned expansion during an open house for community leaders on December 9 in the youth center auditorium.

Youth Center participant Espn Henry (right) shows Mike and Jane Major a tour of one of the newly renovated spaces at the Urbana Youth Center.

Finding community partners

Brenda Burns is editor-in-chief of the Urbana Daily Citizen. Contact her by email at [email protected]

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