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The Friendship Club and NEO merge to form Bright Futures for Youth

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

The Friendship Club and NEO, formerly separate nonprofits dedicated to providing services and support to Nevada County youth, have merged into a single organization called Bright Futures for Youth.

The Friendship Club has provided empowerment and education programs to middle and high school-aged girls in Nevada County for 25 years, and currently serves about 100 girls.

“I think this really gives us the opportunity to look at the whole youth spectrum in general,” said Jennifer Litton Singer, executive director of the organization. “Friendship Club has focused on a narrow population of students over the years, and we’ve been expanding our thinking on that over the last few years.”

In particular, Litton Singer looks forward to continuing efforts to help youth experiencing homelessness through the SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation, Empowerment) program founded in 2019, as well as establishing program services aimed toward boys.

“The more we thought about the ways we wanted to grow, and talked to NEO about the way they were already taking on some of these issues, it just made sense that growing together would be the best for the community and for the kids,” said Litton Singer.

NEO, which stands for New Events and Opportunities, has provided social support and activities to youth aged 11 to 25 in its 12 years of operation. In 2015, NEO opened a youth center located in Grass Valley, which will be relocated as a part of this merger. A new site hasn’t been found.

NEO co-founder Lynn Skrukrud said the organization is in the process of finding a new space which will meet their long-term needs.

“We are still exploring options, but there are several possibilities, and there are some temporary solutions that will allow us to spread activities out and continue to serve the youth while keeping distance,” said Skrukrud.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE

In reference to the benefits of this merger, Skrukrud said, “Both of our organizations have just seen such an increased need of mental health services over the last few years. We recognize the youth need stronger, more in-depth support and bringing the organizations together will allow us to provide those services.”

NEO co-founder Halli Ellis-Edwards expressed that she looks at this merger as a positive learning experience for the youth served.

“It’s a great example for the youth that we serve of how to come together, partner, and collaborate to work through any challenge that comes up,” said Ellis-Edwards. “It shows them through role modeling how to have a good conversation and work through things.”

In recent months, operation of both organizations has been complicated by evolving restrictions on in-person gathering and public health advisories to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Much of the support provided has been either remote or through small, distanced activities, a pattern which may continue as Bright Futures for Youth navigates the upcoming school year.

Litton Singer said the new organization’s leadership is in communication with local school districts and public health officials as they plan their outreach in the immediate future.

“We’re trying to stay open, be flexible, and meet the needs where they are. If we have to go to them and provide some type of pop-up center with activities, we can do that,” said Ellis-Edwards.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.


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