The Urbana Youth Center has announced that it will be based at the former Champaign County Public Library building – most recently known as Carey Auditorium – which is located at 160 W. Market St. in downtown Urbana.
Justin T. Weller, lead project manager for the Urbana Youth Center, explained that the location was chosen for a number of reasons.
“GrandWorks, our parent organization, always looks to bring historic or storied buildings new life. The location at 160 West Market is centrally located, easily accessed, and at about 5,000 square feet, has more than enough space to serve a large number of students. Securing this superb location would not have been possible without forward thinking and dedicated community leaders like Terry Howell, Mike Melvin at Perpetual bank and Eva Carey. Each of these individuals helped make it possible for this location to become the new home of the Urbana Youth Center,” Weller said.
The GrandWorks Foundation is a local not-for-profit organization championing several efforts to reach, restore and revive the community, according to the organization’s mission. The projects include the historic Gloria Theatre in downtown Urbana, The Big Questions (a podcast exploring some of life’s most pressing topics) and the Urbana Youth Center.
The Urbana Youth Center is currently planning to open in early 2021 but may launch programming sooner according to the management team. When it opens, the youth center will work to foster connections between local employers and kids both at the youth center and through visits to local companies.
“We are planning to offer hangout spaces for students in grades six through 12. These areas will keep junior high and high school kids separate and offer them access to board games, books, video games and more. The UYC (Urbana Youth Center) will also be offering homework and study assistance. All kids who attend the youth center – which is completely free to any child in the geographic area of Urbana City Schools – will be able to eat for free any day the youth center is open,” Weller said.
Urbana City Schools had suspended its backpack program in the midst of COVID-19. The program – which provided food to kids who needed it over the weekend – just recently became operational again through the Caring Kitchen. The Urbana Youth Center hopes to fill the weekday gap for kids who may also need food during the week and plans to work with various local entities for the effort.
“We had the opportunity to meet with both the schools and the Caring Kitchen about the backpack program prior to it relaunching. We also were able to discuss what we plan to offer at the youth center and I think between the backpack program on the weekends and the youth center’s nutrition program during the week, we should be able to make sure no child is without access to food outside of the school day,” said Weller.
The Urbana Youth Center has indicated it plans to work closely with a number of community organizations and has secured the official support of Bridges Community Action Partnership, River of Life Church, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the Urbana United Methodist Church, Bundy Baking Solutions, Mercy Health – Urbana Hospital, and others.
Weller says that building a strong network of local employers and organizations is essential to the future success of the youth center.
“A survey is currently being conducted both at UHS and UJHS to gauge student interest and get feedback on the programs they are interested in. While we are still collecting results, the initial feedback is very encouraging. More than 100 students at the high school have expressed an interest in attending the youth center multiple times per week and this clearly demonstrates students desire for access to our center,” Weller said. “In order to serve these students, a robust and dedicated core of volunteers will be needed.”
Local educators, retired teachers, and engaged community members will be sought as volunteers for the youth center, according to Teresa Beverly, the Director of Volunteers for the youth center.
“If you’re someone who believes in the importance of lifting up our kids, we can use your help at the youth center. Now is the time to sign up. We have a lot of work to do to get our building ready, prepare our programming, and build bright futures for our youth,” Beverly explained. “Please take a moment and think about how important it is we set our kids up for success and then go to UrbanaYouthCenter.org/volunteer to learn more.”
“I embarked on this project with two other incredibly engaged community members last November. Reaching this point, where we can turn to the community and show them this is going to happen is incredible,” Weller said. “I am not planning to remain as Executive Director of the effort long-term since I already have a full-time occupation, but I am going to give my time and energy to keep working to better this community and make sure the UYC gets off to a strong start. If not us, then who? That is really what GrandWorks as a foundation is all about and it is part of why I am proud to get to be a member of this team. GrandWorks is pushing ahead on multiple fronts to build a brighter future for Urbana and Champaign County. With your help, we can address our challenges and set ourselves up for a better tomorrow.”
Information for this article provided by Urbana Youth Center organizers. Anna Gaertner contributed to this story.