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Grant funds new youth center

Sacramento Monarchs will be on hand during unveiling
By: Liz Kellar
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A long-deferred dream for Lincoln youth has come to fruition, thanks to the generosity of Maloof Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Sacramento Kings and Monarchs. A youth center targeting middle-school students is taking shape at the vacant fire station on H Street and will be unveiled after an “extreme makeover” renovation Sept. 2. The Sacramento Monarchs, under the auspices of the Maloof organization, have agreed to completely renovate the old firehouse bay and modular building, which have stood vacant since the new Lincoln Fire Depart-ment facility opened on Joiner Parkway. Local volunteers already are hard at work prepping the space for the youth center, which will include a computer area with 10 computers, a library, a fully functional kitchen, and a game room. A youth center was identified as an urgent need by the city’s youth task force, but the slumping economy meant the project seemed destined to an indefinite postponement. Now, the timely intervention of the Monarchs and an unusual collaboration between the city and local nonprofit groups has pushed the project into hyper-drive. “This thing has come together so fast,” said Lincoln Police Lt. Paul Shelgren, the founder of the Lincoln Police Activities League. “Our idea was always to have an after-school program and youth center, but we just couldn’t get anything off the ground.” As far back as 1999, Shelgren said, the group had been trying to get grants for a center. Approximately two months ago, Police Activity League board member Chris Eaton approached the Maloof organization for help in renovating the firehouse. After meeting with the partners — the youth center will be a cooperative effort of the Lincoln Police Activities League, Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center, Lincoln Recreation Department and Re-Direct – the project got the green light. “This is the 12th year the Monarchs have adopted reading and literacy as a community initiative,” said Danette Leighton, vice president of marketing for Monarchs Business Operations. As part of the goal, the Monarchs look to adopt communities in need and build reading and learning centers, in conjunction with partners Wells Fargo and Dome Printing. “We physically go in and we set up the center with computers and books,” Leighton said. “We leave something physical and substantial.” On Sept. 2, members of the Monarchs will descend on the two buildings for an “extreme makeover” and then will unveil the space to the public starting at 4 p.m. “We’re inviting the kids of the community to come on out to join us (at the unveiling),” Shelgren said. The Sacramento Monarchs team will join with volunteers from Wells Fargo, Dome Printing and Maloof Sports & Entertainment to create the Monarchs Reading and Learning Center. The center will receive a complete makeover with a computer lab, a “Wells Fargo One-On-One Room,” a “Dome Printing Reading Lounge,” a game room and a sports-themed outdoor landscape project. According to Shelgren, half-court basketball courts are planned for the side of the building and the fire bay will play host to pool tables, ping-pong tables, air hockey and other games. The pool tables have been donated by Arena Church. Shelgren said the center should be “fully up and running” by the beginning of October. Lincoln Police Youth Services Officer Steve Krueger will be on hand during the center’s hours of operation, from 3-6 p.m. daily. Counseling interns from Lighthouse will be available and PAL volunteers will offer tutoring. The Recreation Department will be coordinating the use of the facility. “This is going to be the place for kids to come to for a variety of services,” Shelgren said. The kitchen will be available for teaching life skills such as cooking, and he hopes the center will eventually be able to work with older youth filling out job applications and writing resumes. “We’re looking at being there for the next five years, unless another opportunity comes up,” Shelgren said. “It’s the perfect location, it’s centrally located … It’s a win-win for us; it won’t cost the city anything.” PAL President Roger Ueltzen, Shelgren and Recreation Department manager Mandy Walker made a presentation to the city council Tuesday to explain the project. Shelgren told the council an anonymous donor has promised to match any donations made to the center, up to $15,000. “The youth center will be a safe place for middle school kids to go after school, a place to be with friends and to make new friends, a place to do homework and learn new things, a place to have fun and get some exercise,” Walker said. “We believe the youth center represents a place where a kid can be a kid … it will be a place of hope, where they can dream.”