NEO plans campaign to raise funds for new facility |

NEO plans campaign to raise funds for new facility

NEO says they are committed to providing a safe place for youth and is currently working on opening a Youth & Community Center.
Submitted to The Union |

NEO Empire Challenge Run/Walk for Youth

When: 7 a.m. (registration), 8 a.m. (start), Saturday

Where: Empire Mine State Park; The start and finish of this 4.2-mile run and two- mile walk will take place in the main parking lot on East Empire Street.

Cost: $25 (adults), $15 (17 and under), $15 (walk)

Gene Gilligan, who directs the Daffodil Run, said he is very excited to be working with NEO on this run.

NEO empowers youth to make healthy lifestyle choices by providing New Events and Opportunities in a safe environment that encourages youth success and contributes to a healthier community, according to its website

The course is considered very challenging as it is all trails going up and around Osborne Hill at Empire Mine.

There will be plenty of course monitors and lots of music and entertainment along the trails. Contact NEO at 530-470-3869 or Gilligan at 530-263-7386 for registration information.

New Events and Opportunities, a local youth group also known as NEO, is currently planning a campaign to raise funds to purchase a facility to house a youth center for the growing number of students and young adults it serves throughout western Nevada County.

“We’re working really hard toward that, and we’re going to meet every month and there’s going to be youth really leading this project,” NEO co-founder and director Halli Ellis said. “But we definitely need adults in the community to step up and stand behind us. It’s not just a youth center, it’s a youth and community center, so we see all ages using the site.”

As the first in a series of upcoming fundraisers and events, today NEO will host an Empire Challenge Run/Walk for Youth from 8-10 a.m. at Empire Mine State Park as the 10th race in the local Gold Country Grand Prix.

“It’s a great opportunity to fundraise money for the many youth programs that we provide for the community,” Ellis said. “It kind of represents our mission, because we’re all about encouraging youth to make healthy lifestyle choices, and participating in community runs is just a great way to do that.”

The event charges runners and walkers a fee to participate, and will include food, live music, a dance area, and mysterious fun-filled stations such as a “Where’s Waldo” activity. NEO youth will also be in attendance dressed in goofy costumes, cheering people on at the high-five station.

“The runners will have even more fun because their course is more challenging, a lot of it’s uphill,” Ellis said. “So we’re going to set different stations up to create a positive environment to really encourage them.”

Founded in 2008, NEO began as a series of summer youth activities organized by Ellis and co-founder Lynn Skrukrud, with support from the Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County.

As a youth worker in Lyman Gilmore Middle School’s afterschool program, Ellis said she noticed that there wasn’t much for teenagers to do locally.

“I felt bored,” Ellis said. “I had graduated high school, I loved my job and I was also attending Sierra College, but outside of that, I didn’t really have any friends. A lot of my friends had moved away, and I really just felt isolated in the community.”

As alumni of Nevada Union High School, Ellis and Skrukrud met when the coalition proposed they work together to organize drug-free events for students in the area. The duo recalls seeing teens congregating downtown during Thursday Night Market events, just standing in the middle of the streets doing nothing.

“They either went to parties or would be alone,” Skrukrud said. “They didn’t have a lot of healthy alternatives to those options, and so that’s why we started NEO really, to create the positive alternative activities so young people can get involved in something, and feel like they are contributing to the community at the same time.”

Skrukrud organized drug-free activities as the drug and tobacco commissioner for the NU student council. But halfway through her senior year, Skrukrud observed that there were still a lot of teens getting caught up in substance abuse, as she recalls one dying from drunken driving.

“So I started to think what we were doing wasn’t working, it wasn’t enough,” Skrukrud said. “Despite the countless hours I spent educating youth, they needed something more, because they were still seeing those negative outcomes.”

After getting involved with the Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County, Skrukrud said she was able to find a kindred spirit in Ellis. After one year of running NEO, the duo both had been accepted to transfer to college out of the county, Ellis to UC Santa Cruz and Skrukrud to Sierra Nevada College.

“But NEO had become more than we had anticipated,” Skrukrud said. “It started as this summer activity that we were going to do for youth and in one year’s time, we were already hosting 70 events per year.”

To keep NEO running, Skrukrud would commute to Lake Tahoe for class, leaving her four days out of the week to run NEO. Ellis would commute back and forth from Santa Cruz on the weekends to stay involved, also working on the group’s newsletter and online presence while completing her sociology degree.

“I interned with the boys and girls club and Santa Cruz teen center in 2012,” Ellis said. “So I was able to get a lot of experience that I was able to contribute to NEO.”

Skrukrud was finishing up a degree in business management and entrepreneurship, saying, “We knew to get that education would further NEO at the same time. Getting degrees would help us in the long run.”

Ellis said that the group has been working on their business plan to purchase a facility since 2012, and that the current campaign they plan to launch in November is still in the planning process.

“We’re doing a lot of outreach in the community for that so that the public can become aware of that project,” Ellis said. “And to really gain more supporters. That could be people coming alongside us and just offering some encouragement, donating their time, services, skills and money as well.”

To raise even more funds for the youth center, Ellis said the group will be frequenting local businesses such as SPD Market, Caleb’s Creamery, Cafe Mekka, and Miner Moe’s Pizza, to hand out information and collect donations from Oct. 19-25.

“NEO is really important to a lot of teens,” NU junior Madison Halls said. “I feel as though if NEO had that type of space we could apply things to so many different teens. If you like mountain biking or if you like singing and dancing, we should have a place where everybody is welcome, and we can give them the opportunity to really thrive in what they love. I’d do anything to really support NEO.”

For more information go to

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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