The GrandWorks Foundation, which owns and operates the Gloria Theatre in Urbana, has announced its latest project: a youth center in the heart of Urbana for students who live in the geographic area of Urbana City Schools.
The project managers have secured the support of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Bundy Baking Solutions, and others. The team is working with Urbana City Schools to explore using the ‘Castle on the Hill’ as the location for the youth center.
Justin T. Weller, Cassie Cress and Teresa Beverly are the founders of the effort and are currently the project management team. The trio approached the GrandWorks’ Board of Directors in January with the project and it was unanimously approved as a new independent endeavor of the Foundation.
“We are passionate about helping the community,” Weller states in a news release. “The three of us met several times after last November and examined our ideas. We decided the youth center was the most pressing and one of the most feasible. We want to do the most good for our community and we knew this was a project we were well qualified to take on.”
The Ohio Department of Education released information in 2018 that classified about 53% of students, or approximately 1,155 children, in the Urbana City School system as “disadvantaged” and the U.S. Census Bureau recently released data revealing that about 30% of kids in the Urbana area live in poverty.
Cress, a teacher at Urbana High School, said, “This data perfectly demonstrates why we must act now to better the future of our students. I see these problems firsthand every day, and that’s why I am as committed as ever to improving our town.”
“As a mother and as an engaged member of this community, it greatly frustrates and disappoints me that Urbana is faced with these problems,” Beverly said. “We have to use these feelings to motivate and rededicate ourselves to the betterment of our community.”
The project managers presented a feasibility study and proposal to the Urbana school board at the April meeting. The study was the culmination of several months of work and included information from entities such as the Champaign County Building Regulations Department, the Urbana Fire Division, architects, engineers and others.
In addition to the document’s information about the Castle, it also outlines some of the programs the Urbana Youth Center will offer. The programs will include homework assistance, mentoring and a nutrition program to help feed kids outside of school. The youth center also plans to work with local employers to connect high schoolers with career opportunities. In the future, the youth center will add additional programs in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.
“This project exemplifies our foundation’s goal to reach, restore and revive the community. Justin was involved, along with others, in the early days and part of what was outlined at the time was a youth center,” said Lisa Dunham, GrandWorks board member. “This is an amazing opportunity for the community. Our project managers are currently exploring location options and have secured numerous community endorsements. We have full faith in our team to bring yet another critical community asset into existence.”
The Gloria Theatre is more than 100 years old and – under the direction of CEO & Board Chair Staci Weller – its general operations are now self-sustaining. Fundraising will continue for ongoing improvements and renovations to further the theatre’s goal of being a state-of-the-art entertainment venue.
According to Staci Weller, “When the board considered the youth center project and taking on a structure like the Castle, having a good strategic plan and stable revenue at the Gloria Theatre made it realistic to pursue an additional project that has long been in the works. We’ve been fortunate to be able to make substantial improvements to the historic theater and look forward to being able to do the same for the Castle on the Hill.”
“The Castle seemed like a no-brainer to explore as a possible location. It is an icon of the community and is currently only used for storage. We are talking about an entire generation of students coming up who will have never set foot in the Castle until they graduate. A youth center would be a great way to make use of this historic treasure,” Dr. Don Sanders, GrandWorks board member, said.
In the coming months, the Foundation will be releasing more information. The team encourages people to learn more at UrbanaYouthCenter.org and be part of the solution.
Justin Weller, lead project manager, said, “When faced with facts that are daunting or outcomes that are discouraging, we have a choice: turn away and ignore the situation or face it and work to improve the future. We choose to be the change. Together, we can build better futures for our youth.”
Submitted by the GrandWorks Foundation