Pursuit of a better future through education returns this week to a quaint old brick building at 160 W. Market St. in Urbana.
Once used as the county’s public library, the circa-1900 structure opens its doors as the Urbana Youth Center on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Like the old library before it, the 8,000-square-foot facility’s use is free to students in grades 6-12 in the Urbana City Schools. Youths in that age group who live in the Urbana City Schools geographic area but do not attend the city schools are also included in the population.
Three areas comprise the UYC: A “hangout space” in the front for socializing, entertainment, reading and gaming; a “study space” in the building’s middle for quiet learning, homework and study assistance; and an auditorium in the back, where free dinners will be served to bolster student nutrition.
To begin, the UYC will be open two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. The goal is for the center to be open four days a week later in the year. A different schedule will be offered for summer.
An entity called Tomorrow Holdings purchased the old library building from previous owner Eva Carey for $170,000. Tomorrow Holdings, co-owned by Justin T. Weller, executive director and lead project manager of the Urbana Youth Center, leases the building to the UYC — which is wholly responsible for the lease and operational expenses of the building.
The UYC is a project of the GrandWorks Foundation, which also has coordinated the renovations of the historic Gloria Theatre on a nearby downtown Urbana block.
Stocking the UYC with modern upgrades and materials has been a community-wide donation effort. In just two months, the entity raised $60,000 in donations — slightly more than half of which has been spent preparing for opening. Books, games and other media suitable for the age range UYC serves were all donated directly by members of the community.
“Everything on these shelves was donated,” Weller said of the hangout space during a tour of the UYC last week. “The interest in this is really strong. Still, we want to set reasonable expectations.”
Donations of time and services have also been instrumental in converting the old building for its new use. More than $30,000 of in-kind contributions made the upgrades and preparations achievable.
Since the UYC moved into its current location in November 2020, the building has been buzzing with activity in preparation for students. Improvements include updated electrical, fresh coats of paint, new lighting, technology upgrades, security systems, steam cleaning carpets, upgrading restrooms to ADA compliance, improving building safety and much more.
The UYC will open with 4 staffers and a group of volunteers. All individuals overseeing activity in the UYC will be age 18 or over. Adult supervision of activities will be constant, Weller said.
When students enter the UYC facility they will check in on an electronic computer pad that generates and transmits a record of their entry and exit to their parent or guardian. The UYC is fitted with a security system and cameras, Weller said.
In a survey of what youths wish they had in a center, a place to congregate and socialize (hang out) as well as the ability to hone basic life skills topped the list.
Weller explained the hangout space “opens the door” for access to other meaningful opportunities inside the center. He said local employers have expressed their hope the UYC will help “build the future workforce.”
Homework assistance and quiet study areas are to be supplemented by education not prominently offered in the public school curriculum these days: cooking, budgeting and career skills needed to apply for and interview for jobs in the community.
But it’s not all business. The UYC plans to offer drama, arts, yoga classes, stress management and meditation skill training to promote a well-rounded growth experience.
“Without the support of the community, open minds, and a willingness to explore the opportunities before us, this inspiring project would not be possible,” Weller said.
The UYC had initially set its sights on the The Castle building, on the campus of Urbana High School. Terms for use of that building were not compatible between the entities of the UYC and the city schools, causing the former library building to be the final destination. Weller said leaders in the Urbana City Schools have been helpful and supportive of the center even though it was not ultimately placed on a school campus.
On Nov. 17, the Urbana City Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to issue a letter of endorsement and support for the Urbana Youth Center, stating that board sees, “… the value in providing for the many needs of our students outside of the traditional school day. We appreciate the work being done by the GrandWorks Foundation …”
A survey of students at both Urbana High School and Urbana Junior High School indicated strong interest in the programs being offered for free at the UYC.
“The survey we conducted in November shows us just how many students say a youth center is essential to their future success. About 275 students have indicated they will probably or definitely attend the Urbana Youth Center, according to a recent survey of Urbana students in grades six through 12,” Weller said.
“Students showed strong interest in our hangout spaces and it’s important to understand the opportunity that presents. We open the door to kids and provide them a safe place to hang out and have fun. As they come to experience a sense of belonging at the UYC, we then have the opportunity to open their minds to new programs that improve not only educational outcomes but set them on a trajectory to be engaged members of this community,” Weller added. “Ultimately, that’s how we achieve open hearts, open minds and open doors. That is the opportunity before us.”
Students are invited to sign up for access to the UYC by logging on to https://urbanayouth.center/students. There is also a portal for parents and volunteers on the UYC’s main website, https://urbanayouth.center
Get on the bus
With the Urbana City Schools located in two different parts of the area served, the UYC has opted to offer a bus ride for students from both campuses. A donated bus has been painted to coordinate with the Youth Center and will pick up students from both campuses and bring them to the center after school. The bus will line up with the other Urbana City Schools buses at each campus.
Youths are also welcome to walk to the center, but the bus is meant to make travel to the UYC from the school easier and safer.
Have dinner on us
Bridges Community Action Partnership and the Caring Kitchen will alternate to provide dinner to students from 6-7 p.m. on days the center is open, Weller said. Food will also be available to take home.
Bridges will provide lighter fare such as submarine sandwiches and the Caring Kitchen will provide traditional dinner.
All of it is free to students.
Free admission to the center isn’t the only perk of being a member. The UYC plans to stage period giveaways of popular electronic devices like Xbox, PS5, iPads and gift cards “just for showing up.”
About the mission
While giving a tour of the UYC, Weller noted the statistics behind the mission.
On the UYC’s website, it is noted 1 in 3 Urbana children lives in poverty, according to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report. In addition, 1,155 children in the area of UYC service are classified as disadvantaged, according to a 2018 Ohio Department of Education report.
The UYC’s website notes there are more than 215 youths who plan to come to the UYC weekly.
“The future of our children impacts our community’s opportunities and success for decades to come,” according to a statement on the UYC’s website. “With open hearts and open minds, this community can rally our resources to not only lift kids up, but set them on a trajectory for accomplishing amazing things.”
The Urbana Youth Center is a project of the GrandWorks Foundation, a local not-for-profit public charity 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 UYC.
The GrandWorks Foundation’s mission statement declares it “is a non-profit organization working to reach, restore, and revive the community. A partnership of public, private, and faith-based organizations have come together to see that mission accomplished. It is a team of passionate people with a heartfelt desire to rekindle a community full of fun, opportunities, love and acceptance.”
How to assist the effort
“Right now, we have several months of operating cash on-hand, but it goes quickly. This is a massive undertaking – a bold project for a bright future – and it is going to require this community’s continued support to secure the UYC’s longevity,” Weller said.
According to Weller, monetary contributions are needed to make sure the UYC can fund its full lineup of programming through the summer and fall of 2021.
If people wish to make a contribution using a debit or credit card, Facebook is the perfect place, Weller said.
Facebook does not charge any processing fees or take a cut of any donations to verified 501(c)(3) organizations. For those interested in supporting the project, Weller suggested people go to Facebook.com/UYcenter to donate.
Checks are also welcome and should be made payable to Urbana Youth Center and mailed to 160 W. Market St., Urbana, OH 43078. Alternatively, people may call or text the youth center at (937) 772-4022.
“Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5, $500, $5,000 or more. Every bit helps and regular monthly contributions ensure the UYC will serve kids for years to come,” Weller said. “Spreading the word and making sure students know the UYC is here for them is equally important. We know there’s great opportunities ahead to build bright futures for our youth.”
Reach Brenda Burns at [email protected]