A dream that’s been brewing for the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield for more than two decades is finally happening.
The nonprofit is moving forward with plans to build a three-story, 44,000-square-foot center for middle and high school students ages 13 and up.
The Risdal Family Center for Great Futures will be located at 810 W. Catalpa Street on the planned Grant Avenue Parkway.
Boys & Girls Club of Springfield CEO Brandy Harris said a groundbreaking will happen later this year and, if all goes as planned, a ribbon cutting will be in August of 2024.
The center will be a safe space where young people can go after school and have access to food, computers, mental health care, a gym, game room, and laundry facilities — to name just a few of the center’s offerings and services.
The third floor of the building will become dedicated to FosterAdopt Connect’s YouthConnect Center for homeless and at-risk teens.
Plans to create a center dedicated to older youth began coming together last summer as a result of the pandemic, Harris said.
“We were looking at data from the impact COVID has had on teen mental health and has had on teens in general,” Harris said. “It’s just immeasurable. We decided now is the time to move forward with this project.
“Conversations about a stand-alone teen center probably started like 25 years ago, but it just never got to the top of the priority list,” she added. “It started a long time ago, but now it’s actually happening, so I’m really excited.”
The plan was to launch the public phase of the capital campaign in September, Harris said. But word was beginning to spread a little early because both the City of Springfield and Greene County recently announced American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding awards, which included funds for the new teen center.
The Boys & Girls Club project received $2 million in ARPA funding from the city and another $2 million from the county.
“Both the city and the county did, in my opinion, some good due diligence with serving the community about how they would like to see these funds be spent,” Harris said. “And our project aligns with the top priorities for both the city and the county. I’m really, really excited to share that with the community, so they know what this money is going towards.”
So far, the project has raised over $1 million in private donations, plus the $4 million in ARPA funds. The campaign goal of raising $12 million includes three years of operation reserve.
The center and all its programming will be completely free for youth.
Harris said they anticipate serving about 1,000 teens, which is double the organization’s current impact. The building will be able to serve 250-300 youth at a time, but kids will be coming and going at different times.
A very important part of the planning process has been the focus group of teenagers who have had a voice in what services teens want and need.
This project will truly be by teens for teens,” Harris said, “and I’m really excited that their voices will be heard in this project.”
Services and programs offered at the teen center
The Boys & Girls programming at all locations covers six core areas: the arts, workforce readiness, education, sports and recreation, health and wellness, and character and citizenship.
The new center for teens will offer programs and services that cover the six core areas, with mental health being a major focus.
Both Burrell Behavioral Health and Ozarks Counseling Center will be partnering with the Boys & Girls Club at the new center, which will have a space for a licensed professional counselor, plus flexible workspaces where small group counseling and classes can take place.
“What we have tried to do is remove any barriers to access that possibly exist for teens getting access to mental health care,” Harris said. “When a student comes to the Boys & Girls Club, they can have access to mental health services for free.”
“COVID has had a tremendous impact on teen mental health,” she said. “Many teens who were at home did not have the opportunity to go to school or interact with people, the impact on social-emotional skills, the impact on mental health in general in homes where you’d find more violence, job loss, hunger, etcetera. We’re just at a really crucial point right now where we can help change the trajectory because those things have lasting impacts on teens.”
Workforce readiness will be another important focus at the new center, through the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield’s already-existing Reach program.
Along with teaching skills and helping with certifications, the Reach program provides kids with equal access to workforce development opportunities.
“Basically what that does is we hire teens. We place them throughout the community or at the Club,” Harris explained. “It’s essentially their first job. They build basic skills, fundamental basic first job skills. We pay their hourly rate, and it’s just a remarkable program. We’re going to be able to take it to the next level at this location.”
Harris shared one of her favorite success stories from the Reach program. A young man dreamed of being a barber and was passionate about someday owning his own barber shop.
“We placed him at Blue Styles on Commercial Street. He learned the basics and fundamentals of the business. He formed a mentorship with the owner. He cut hair on willing participants, and we paid his hourly rate,” she said. “So it’s helping a local business. It’s helping our kids get their first job skills.”
Another important feature youth will find at the new center is something that came directly from that teen focus group: a place to chill after school. The group made it clear they want someplace where they can relax with friends and get a bite to eat.
“We’re going to honor that,” Harris said, smiling. “I think teens are very good at telling you exactly what they want. Some of it’s good for them. Some of it’s not. So we find a really good balance of those things.”
According to the plans and renderings provided to the Daily Citizen, the new center will have a gym, dance studio, fitness studio, laundry room, games room, common area, eSports lounge, cafeteria, Needs Store, art room, learning lab, tech lab, multi-use space, culinary kitchen, mental health office and a health clinic.
Why Grant Avenue Parkway location?
The city’s Grant Avenue Parkway project is a plan to create an off-street pedestrian and bicycle pathway along Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to College Street in downtown Springfield.
The Grant Avenue Parkway project will use $25 million to turn part of the area into a district designed to attract visitors, inspire development and encourage outdoor recreation. It also will change transportation around Parkview High School and Fassnight Park, and the western end of downtown.
Many of those new businesses will provide employment opportunities for teens who come to the new center, Harris said.
More on the Parkway Project
The first mile: consultants study northern end of Grant Avenue Parkway area
Springfield’s city planners hired consultants to study part of Grant Avenue to weigh its potential for modern urban development, and to determine how it can best be transformed into a destination district. The city of Springfield announced Feb. 16 that it hired planning consultants from PGAV Planners to study the section of Grant Avenue that starts…
Another bonus with the centralized location is that it’s close to Parkview High School and Jarrett Middle School. On good weather days, students can walk to the center. Of course, teens who have their own transportation can drive.
Boys & Girls Club will also use their fleet to pick up from area high schools and middle schools, Harris said. For the kiddos with the greatest need, the Boys & Girls Club will be able to provide transportation home in the evenings.
“We need to eliminate the transportation barrier,” she said.
Emergency shelter, services for homeless youth on 3rd floor
When the center opens, the third floor will become the new home of the YouthConnect Center (usually referred to as the YCC), a project of FosterAdopt Connect that will offer services and emergency shelter for homeless and at-risk youth.
The YCC — which opens in October — is currently located at 425 W. McDaniel St., Suite 160. FosterAdopt Connect is leasing the roughly 3,000 square foot space near the downtown square until the Boys & Girls Club’s new teen center is complete. When the YCC moves into the planned Risdal Family Center for Great Futures, the YCC will have about 1,000 square feet of space.
In addition to a wide range of wrap-around services, the YCC will be able to provide two to three nights of shelter for 16 to 18 years olds while staff will be working to get the teens into a more long-term housing solution or program.
There are currently 14 different providers connected with the YCC and will be providing services there ranging from help with substance use disorder, mental health services, parenting education for teen parents as well as the parents of the teen clients.
This means the teen won’t have to figure out how to get to these different service providers scattered throughout Springfield. Instead, those agencies will meet with the teen at the YCC.
Some of the agencies partnering with FosterAdopt Connect for the YCC include: Springfield Public Schools, Burrell Behavioral Health, Jordan Valley Community Health, Boys & Girls Club, Greene County Children’s Division, Greene County Juvenile Office and Community Partnership of the Ozarks.
Harris said she is thrilled to be partnering with FosterAdopt Connect to create a truly one-stop-shop for at-risk youth.
“I’m just so thankful for that collaboration and partnership with FosterAdopt Connect,” she said on Tuesday. “During our conversation with the teen committee whenever we had that big meeting last week, every single one of them said either they or they know somebody who is unstably housed, doesn’t have a home address, living on couches or in a friend’s garage.”
Next door to the planned Risdal Family Center for Great Futures, the DHTC Development LLC is planning to build a 41-unit affordable housing complex. This complex will set aside 8-10 units for youth aging out of foster care.
“How amazing would it be if it’s like right here — any potential need that you might have could be addressed,” Harris said. “It’s just so meaningful and exciting. I am hopeful that everything just works out.
“I feel very confident that we will reach our goal because there’s no other option,” she added. “We will make this happen, and I’m confident in this community. It has shown up for the Boys & Girls Club for the last 84 years, and I am confident that they will continue.”