Youth Center could close

Funding only enough through May
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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A place Lincoln youth can go for homework help, friendships and lessons in responsibility and respect could close, due to a lack of funds. Youth Center officials are now seeking community help to keep the nonprofit organization, which provides free services to Lincoln teens and preteens for the last two years. There is currently only enough funding to keep the Youth Center, located at 391 H St., running until May, according to Karen Hernandez, the Lincoln Youth Center’s executive director. “We are looking for individuals to sponsor the Youth Center monthly,” Hernandez said. The nonprofit Youth Center needs $2,000 a month to stay open three days a week, according to Hernandez. The Youth Center has been adversely affected by the economy, Hernandez said. “As the economy is getting worse, it’s harder to get donations so funding has declined,” Hernandez said. It costs $65,000 per school year to keep the center running five days a week and $12,000 in the summer for five days a week, according to Hernandez. The 230 middle and high school-aged kids currently enrolled at the Youth Center receive a meal there, as well as help with their homework, access to a computer lab and an opportunity to play board games and video games. “It gives them a place to be and build respect, accountability and good values,” said Joann Hilton, a ReDirect board member. “The older kids are asked to help the younger kids. They are exposed to good practices and that’s a huge benefit to Lincoln.” Before the Youth Center opened, some youth didn’t have a place to go after school and were “getting into trouble,” according to Hilton. Expenses include staffing and food for the children, as well as activities, field trips and supplies such as printer paper, paper plates and cups, and craft supplies, according to Hernandez. The Police Activities League (PAL) provided $15,000 for the center to open in 2008, with an additional $15,000 matching contribution from an unnamed community member, according to Hernandez. As of Oct. 31, Hernandez said, there is $16,920 left over from the initial funding, which will keep the Youth Center open three days a week through May. The Youth Center also received funding from a grant offered by Thunder Valley Casino but that grant isn’t available anymore, according to Hernandez. The casino grant money amounted to $37,619 a year for one year, according to previous News Messenger reports. ReDirect and Rotary also provide funding for the Youth Center, according to Hernandez. She wasn’t able to give an amount for how much both organizations will provide this year. ReDirect, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and opportunities to at-risk youths, also supplies volunteers who keep the Youth Center running, according to Hernandez. She is the only paid staff member at the Youth Center. Hernandez is paid for 12 hours a week and makes $18.26 an hour. “Juan (husband) and I volunteered all of our time at the Youth Center during the first year,” Karen Hernandez said. The money received from Thunder Valley Casino was used for her salary, according to Hernandez. Hernandez is president of ReDirect, and her husband, Juan Hernandez, is vice president. He also volunteers his time at the Youth Center. ReDirect would be affected if the Youth Center was forced to close, according to Hernandez, since “ReDirect has programs that utilize the Youth Center.” Those programs include independent study, a teen parenting program and diversion, which Hernandez said, teaches youth pro-social skills and anger management. The Youth Center is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. “The Rotary Club is very concerned about the future of the Youth Center, and has formed a committee to save the Youth Center,” Hilton said. The Rotary Club is looking for other service clubs to help out, according to Hilton, who is the Rotary Club’s president-elect. The funding target is $50,000. Fatima Diaz, 14, said she started attending the after school program two years ago after learning about it from her cousin. “It gives you a lot of new opportunities, like Karen (Herandez), she signed us up for classes at her gym,” Fatima said. “Another opportunity is I got a $120 grant to pay for soccer and that helped me a lot because I didn’t have the money for it.” Fatima said she’ll do homework when she first gets to the Youth Center. “Once I finish it, I’ll see if anyone else needs help, and depending on the day, I help with the cooking,” Fatima said. Yoselin Rodriguez, 10, said she enjoys being able to help the community through the Youth Center, and also said “it’s a fun place to be.” “It’s helpful. They can help you with your homework, and you learn how to do things,” Yoselin said. “Once, they taught us how to do origami.”