IAN LORD, St. Albans Messenger
‘Why is this such a challenge? This is ridiculous.’
ST. ALBANS — Organizers, who are about to see their headquarters torn down, are working to return a full-time youth center to St. Albans. The hope is that taxpayers and local officials will be willing to invest in the city’s younger population.
With help from a Youth in Transition (YIT) grant administered by Northwestern Counseling and Support Services (NCSS), the initiative aims to create a new teen center — the Youth Resource Center — that the city has lacked since 2010.
The small group of community members who met Wednesday night looked at solidifying the organization through weekly meetings with the aim of recruiting volunteers and determining a permanent building from which to operate.
An immediate concern for the group is its location.
The Youth Resource Center organizers are currently operating under a sub-lease from the All About Kids organization in the Rail City Salon building on Lake Street. But with the city planning on tearing that building down soon to make way for the new parking garage, a new location must be found, said grant coordinator Ebony Nyoni.
Nyoni said neither her organization nor All About Kids have been given a firm timeline as to when the building will be razed. That, she explained, creates difficulties in finding a new space and scheduling a move. She said the group has looked into an available downtown location, but there is interest from other groups in that spot.
“We need to have some kind of confirmation,” Nyoni said. “We didn’t plan to move from here one year later (after moving in).”
Organizer Jeff Bean, also a member of the city’s planning commission, said the group could use the move to its benefit, since it offers the opportunity to upgrade the headquarters to a better location.
Beyond finding a place to meet and have a spot for the area’s teenagers to go after school, Nyoni stressed the need to mobilize more community members to get involved. She said one possibility would be to hand out petitions and surveys at high school sporting events in order to build an increased interest in the Youth Resource Center.
With enough community support, organizers agreed, a teen center will have to be, at least in part, funded by taxpayers. Bean said after gaining public support, the Youth Resource Center will have to find a place on the city’s radar.
“It needs to be brought up to a much higher level,” Bean said. He said eventually the organizers would have to propose a budget item for the center to the city council, which could put any funding requests to taxpayers.
Group members said they hoped to bring a large audience of supporters to whatever board meeting they will eventually attend asking for a budget item.
Another goal Nyoni has is to establish a solid relationship with the city’s organizers and elected officials. She said she would work to open communications with city council members and the mayor.
Nyoni, who has worked in youth organization in Burlington and elsewhere, said she toured youth centers around the state. Almost all of those she visited received financial support from local governments. She also mentioned that neighboring communities, such as Swanton, Richford and Montgomery have teen centers and that it makes sense for the area’s largest municipality to support a youth center, too.
Organizers said their mission in gaining public and official support would be based on asking for a minimum investment for a teen center. Asking taxpayers to each pay a dollar extra or a small percentage more for a much-needed resource shouldn’t be difficult, said YIT board member Jes Stumpf. The group Wednesday night seemed set on rolling out “1 percent for the kids” as a slogan for the effort.
“It doesn’t cost a lot per person,” Stumpf said. “Why is this such a challenge? This is ridiculous.”
With the YIT grant running out at the end of 2014, budgeting the resources for a teen center will be a challenge, Nyoni said. She said when the last city teen center closed in 2010, it was operating on an $84,600 annual budget.
Before gathering community support and bringing the issue to a public board, organizer Anna Brace said it would benefit the group to develop concrete costs and logistics.
The group seemed to agree that with the city making a strong investment in the downtown development, having people pony up to help the area’s teenagers — particularly potential at-risk youths — should be an easy sell.
Moving forward, Bean said it would be beneficial to have teenagers involved, seeing that the center would directly benefit that population. He said the group would work with area schools to see how it can get feedback from the city’s younger group of citizens.
“We need that level of support to come from that age group,” Bean said.
The Youth Resource Center organizers will meet on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. at the All About Kids (behind Rail City Salon) location at 17 Lake St.. All are welcome to attend.