The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis will open its first teen support center on Thursday with the mission of providing a safe haven for youth in Ferguson and around north county.
The three-story Teen Center of Excellence covers 27,000 square feet and is located on West Florissant Avenue, less than a half-mile from where a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in 2014.
Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, said he thinks the center will provide resources and a community that make young people less “vulnerable to the streets or more risky activities.”
“We know that young people like to stay engaged, and they’re going to either be engaged in positive activities, or there’s a good chance that they’re going to be involved in negative activities, particularly during out-of-school time when parents aren’t home to provide the supervision that they need,” Fowler said.
Boys & Girls Clubs serve people ages 6 to 18 around the country, but this is one of the nonprofit’s first facilities dedicated solely to those ages 12 to 18. Fowler said the goal is to serve 1,500 teens at the center each year.
Programming focuses on leadership, civic engagement, education and workforce readiness, awareness of the arts, technological skills and healthy living. Teens will have access to a nutrition education center, outdoor garden, auditorium, studios and other facilities. Social workers will work onsite to provide counseling and refer families to other resources, Fowler said.
“A number of our young people have experienced trauma, so how do you deal with that and not let it limit your possibility?” Fowler said. “[We’re] making sure that young children and teens have access to the types of support services that they need to be healthy physically, emotionally and psychologically.”
Organizers used a survey to gain feedback from local teens during the planning process, Fowler said. Many requested a safe place to hang out with friends, so the center has a game room and gym. Some wanted help getting a job, so mentors will provide guidance in that area.
“There is structure,” Fowler said. “It’s very purposeful and very directed.”
Construction and the first three years’ operating expenses total $12.4 million. Grants, private donations, corporate sponsorships and $2.5 million from the Missouri Development Finance Board are covering the costs, Fowler said.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony in September 2018, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles called the 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 annual membership fee is $25, and financial resources are available to those who cannot afford the fee. Applications are available onsite and online.
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