When the Urbana Youth Center (UYC) opened for the first time two months ago, surveys taken among youths showed there would be significant interest and participation.
Reality has matched expectations, and even exceeded them in some areas of operation.
In fact, the number of kids participating at the UYC has caused a high demand for two things: more usable square footage and more volunteer help.
UYC Executive Director Justin T. Weller describes “soaring attendance” and hopes success will attract more participation.
Weller said the UYC currently has about 400 student members.
“On the nights we are open, we regularly have more than 100 students attend UYC,” Weller said. The UYC is open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after school and serves junior high school and high school students attending Urbana City Schools or those who live in the district.
“Our homework and study assistance program has 15 to 30 students using the service each night and we are serving healthy snacks and dinner to about 100 young people regularly,” he said.
The partnerships within the community are helping to enhance the offerings to student members at UYC.
Urbana Youth Center is a project of the GrandWorks Foundation and has unique opportunities to partner with its sister projects, like the Gloria Theatre – located around the corner.
“There are awesome volunteers working on both projects and thanks to their handwork, we were able to bring about 75 students to the theater to watch a movie for free,” Weller said.
Safe and constructive
For parents and families who want assurance their student is in a productive and constructive atmosphere at UYC, Weller and the founders of the facility had accountability and safety as top goals when forming the plans. The local police are familiar and supportive faces at the UYC, according to Weller.
“We take safety and security seriously,” he said. “Thanks to the assistance from local law enforcement, students can now see officers in a positive environment on a regular basis. This is essential not only to provide a safe environment for students, but to allow them to build relationships and view our local police as a resource.”
Weller said Urbana Police Chief Matt Lingrell recently met with him and offered the support of the Urbana Police Division in ensuring a safe and fun environment for the students at UYC.
Transparency and communication are at the heart of ensuring parents, students and the UYC team are able to offer a good environment for students, Weller said. All students are required to check in and out of the youth center. Each time they do, their guardian listed on file at UYC is notified instantly via email with their time in or time out. UYC has the capability to text the majority of its member students and 200-plus parents/guardians to keep everyone up-to-date about what is happening at the youth center.
A room currently in the UYC under renovation will serve a variety of small-group programs ranging from drama and the arts to yoga, meditation, basic life skills, arts and crafts and more.
“With soaring attendance at UYC – 400 students registered and 100 regularly attending on the nights we are open – we need more space for new programs. A big thank you to our friends at Renewed Strength for helping move the project along,” Weller said.
UYC was open last month during the week of Urbana’s spring break.
“This is notable because the youth center will often be open when school is not, enabling us to provide a safe, fun and productive environment for young people,” Weller said. “The value of a warm, inclusive and fun environment cannot be overstated.”
More to come
The youth center is working to plan a field trip to visit local manufacturing partners so students can learn about summer job opportunities and what careers in the local community may look like for them. Some of these summer positions could offer the opportunity for students to earn $16 an hour or more.
UYC is also working to offer about 45 high school students and 45 junior high students the opportunity to take an all-expenses-paid trip to a trampoline park in the Columbus area. The trip will stress S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) principles and a fun experience for students to get outside of the local area.
“In November of 2019 the youth center was an idea – a promise. In January of 2020 the Urbana Youth Center began to take shape as a project of GrandWorks,” Weller said. “Then, one year later, UYC opened our doors to the hearts and minds of young people. A promise and dream became reality. Open hearts, open minds, open doors. It doesn’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy. There will be challenges – many of them – to overcome, but we owe it to the more than 350 students that have signed up at UYC to provide the experience they want and help them build the future they need.”
The youth center needs more people who are willing to help build bright futures for young people.
From individuals who want to work with students directly, to people who can do cleaning, renovations and other tasks, there is something for everyone. Interested individuals should go to https://UrbanaYouth.Center/volunteers