Updated Sept. 13 at 3:50 p.m., to include information from Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony.
Four years after protests rocked Ferguson, a nonprofit is expanding youth services in the area.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis broke ground on a teen center in Ferguson, Thursday morning. The $12.4-million facility will be located on West Florissant Avenue, less than half a mile from the spot where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014.
Ferguson resident Joshua Cogshell, 18, said the center will fill an important void in the community by teaching young people the skills they need to be successful.
“The teen center’s going to do a lot for this area,” Cogshell said. “There are so many teens that just don’t know what they’re going to do because they’re in situations where people aren’t there to help them.”
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles called teen center a “tremendous feat.”
“It’s a promise that was made and a promise that was kept,” Knowles said, referring to the fact that plans for the facility have been in the works for several years. “We very much appreciate all the work that was done to make this become a reality.”
The three-story center will offer a range of services for teens, including a nutrition education center, outdoor garden, gym, lounge and art studio.
To help prepare young people for the workforce, staff will connect them with career opportunities, such as summer jobs and internships. The facility will also have a trained social worker on site to counsel teens about stress, trauma and resolve conflict.
Ferguson resident D’Aura Tatum lives down the street from center site.
Though the 10-year-old won’t be allowed to use the facility for a few more years, she’s eagerly awaiting its opening.
“I’m excited about using technology there because I want to be an engineer when I become older,” Tatum said.
Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, said he hopes the Teen Center of Excellence will become a community hub in Ferguson.
“We want to make an investment in a part of the community that has had such a negative image portrayed,” Fowler said. “Because it’s more than optics. We really want to make a difference in the lives of kids and ultimately, in how the neighborhood functions.”
As part of the planning process, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis gathered information from teenagers and dozens of “thought leaders” from the Ferguson area. These included members of local law enforcement, small business owners and educators.
“This was not just an idea birthed in one brain,” Fowler said. “We really wanted to have input from a variety of sources.”
The nearly 27,000-square-foot facility is funded through a mix of private donations and corporate sponsorships.
The Missouri Development Finance Board also awarded $2.5 million in state tax credits for the project last year.
The center is expected to open in fall 2019.
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