June 2014 Worcester Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER — At the start, the Worcester Youth Center was not much more than a room in the basement of City Hall. But by the early 1990s, the warm welcome had turned cooler and there was a growing tension between the youth of Worcester and authorities, for whom their presence had become something of a burden.

As a result of some tense years, a partnership evolved between community activists, City Hall officials and the youth themselves, which in 1994 led to the official establishment of the Worcester Youth Center as a nonprofit organization with its own building in the former Capitol Toys store at 326 Chandler St.

This year, the center celebrates 20 years in the community and organizers have been hard at work to commemorate the occasion.

From 3:30 to 7 p.m. June 7, rain or shine, the center will open its doors to the community with a cookout as a way of giving thanks, celebrating two decades of being a “safe haven for youth who may have no other place to go,” said Executive Director Samuel Martin.

“The Worcester Youth Center has always been staffed by caring adults who understand the challenges that coming with growth as a young person,” he said. “We are committed to their futures.”

The cookout, said Robb Zarges, chairman of the event’s planning committee, will have the feel of a block party, offering free barbecue food and carnival games in addition to a basketball tournament and talent showcase.

It is a chance, he said, for alumni, funders and the community to get a taste of what exactly makes the center so special to so many people.

“We have a quite a few alumni who are coming in for the weekend to help celebrate this anniversary,” he said, adding that the overall theme of the event is Worcester Youth Center: Past, Present and Future. “We are looking forward to being able to show people where the Youth Center is going.”

While the center has long been a place where kids can socialize and decompress from the pressures of school and home life in a safe environment that keeps them off the streets, the last few years have been a clear indication that the youth are ready for something more.

Some of the recent additions to the center’s many programs reflects what the near future holds, said Mr. Martin. In the past few years, the center has begun a focus on programs such as Leap to College and some collaboration with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, so that the center’s youth can have access to knowledge about emerging technologies and developments in the realm of green jobs.

“We are determined that our youth will not be left behind in this new world of science, technology, engineering and math,” he said of the programs that allow youth to work with Quinsigamond Community College students and the energy center.

The center is funded through a “healthy mixture” of public and private funding, said Mr. Martin.

A dinner reception on June 6 is the kick-off event that will celebrate the community organizations that have been financial supporters throughout the years, allowing the center to serve the more than 900 youth that walk through its doors each year.

The featured speaker is Eric Dickson, president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care, an organization that has been a stalwart supporter of the center, said Mr. Martin.

Mr. Martin and the celebration’s organizers are hopeful that people from the community will attend the celebration as a way of seeing all the partnerships that youths have enjoyed for two decades and counting.

For more information, call (508) 791-4702 or email infor@worcesteryouthcenter.org.

Byline: Amanda Roberge
COPYRIGHT 2014 Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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