NEO opens doors to new youth center in Grass Valley |

NEO opens doors to new youth center in Grass Valley

Teens watch the Sierra College Jazz Combo play on stage inside of NEO's new youth center on Joerschke Drive. The space will host afterschool and weekend activities for junior high and high school students.
Emily Lavin/ | The Union

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NEO’s youth center is located at 139 Joerschke Drive in Grass Valley. Drop-in hours for teens will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 - 6:00 p.m. beginning April 7. For more information, visit or call 530-470-3869.

In one room, a pair of teens gathered to watch a live band perform on a small stage; others sat in a smaller space nearby, munching on snacks around a table.

In the next room, two young girls were in the middle of a competitive game of foosball.

Outside, 17-year-old William Stearns gave local nonprofit NEO’s youth center his seal of approval.

“I like the atmosphere of it,” Stearns said. “It just gives off really good vibes.”

Stearns and his peers joined NEO’s staff, board members and community supporters on Thursday night to celebrate the opening of the organization’s new Joerschke Drive youth space with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.

The youth center will be the only center in the county open to all teens, said Lynn Skrukrud, NEO’s co-founder and co-director, making it an invaluable resource in an area suffering from a lack of community spaces for young people.

“It’s an ongoing, notorious problem in Nevada County that there’s nowhere for teens to go,” Skrukrud said. “We definitely feel like we can fill that void that has been seen here for a long time.”

Beginning April 7, the center will be open from 2:30-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; teens can drop in during those hours to receive homework help, participate in arts and crafts, play video and board games or just hang out.

The center will also host weekday evening and weekend concerts, movie nights and dances.

NEO was established in 2008 as a youth-centered component of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Nevada County; the organization aims to empower youth to live healthy lives, build self-esteem and be positive influences on their peers.

Skrukrud said the organization has hosted more than 70 youth events over the past six years, primarily on the weekends at various locations in the county; the new space will allow the organization to expand those offerings to the after-school hours when students need them most.

“We wanted to address that time frame when young people don’t have much to do, and are usually unsupervised and unengaged,” Skrukrud said.

With the help of community and youth volunteers and local businesses, the organization transformed the three-room building on Joerschke Drive to a youth-friendly space, replacing the carpets with hardwood floors and painting the walls in bright colors.

Fifteen-year-old Mary Vogel, who serves as one of the organization’s youth coordinators, said the youth center gives teens a unique experience that’s hard to find anywhere else in the community.

“You get to meet new people and explore your interests through activities here,” Vogel said. “You can expand outside your box and learn new things.”

Carly Maxstone, 18, echoed those thoughts, adding that she likes that the youth center isn’t a place where teens need to have a particular hobby or religious affiliation to feel included.

“This place is for everyone to check out,” Maxstone said.

Skrukrud is hoping the center will serve as momentum toward the organization’s ultimate goal — opening a multi-generational community center that will offer after-school and weekend activities, as well as a family resource center, youth job training and outdoor recreation.

They’ve been working on a business plan and are in the process of exploring potential partners for the venture.

“We feel like we’re in a really unique position to do it well and create something that’s really positive for the community that will be able to last for a long time,” Skrukrud said.

In the meantime, said 16-year-old Hayley Pritchard, the new youth space will be a source of support for teens in the county, whether they want to make new friends, pursue a new interest or simply relax in a welcoming space.

“It’s a great place to feel wanted, needed and accepted,” Pritchard said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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