Heidi Hall: Something’s happening here, with our youth | TheUnion.com

Heidi Hall: Something’s happening here, with our youth

Heidi Hall
Submitted photo | The Union

Something young is happening in Grass Valley.

Ever since I moved to Grass Valley in 2005 with my two pre-teen boys I have yearned for a downtown youth center. I imagined a place where pick-up basketball games could happen and music was always in the background. It would be a safe place to gather, where kids could connect to each other and drugs and alcohol would be considered uncool.

As much as I loved the idea of raising my kids in our rural area, I also know they were missing the ease of connection that happens in suburbs and cities where you can find a kid your age within walking distance. While it is too late for my kids, who are off living their own lives now, it is not for yours.

Two persistent, capable and committed young women, Lynn Skrukrud and Halli Ellis, are making this dream come true through NEO (New Events and Opportunities). They started working on this project when they were 19, and years later, it is happening. I first encountered Halli staffing a NEO booth at a Sierra College. I was lazily browsing through the quad, but she had her elevator pitch ready and the hook was in.

We have an enormous number of great nonprofits in this community doing wonderful things, but there is only one doing the work NEO is.

I asked Halli recently what gave her the persistence and passion she has had on this project. She said, “Over the 10 years of working with youth in the community, I’ve seen the struggles that many youth face and I believe they deserve more than they’re given in regards to support and services in our community. NEO allows me … to connect with youth and make a positive difference in their lives. I put my heart and soul into NEO because I love and care for the youth as if they were my own and I want the best for them.”

I have since watched NEO get more and more traction, putting on events at every school in the area, showing up at every public event, and making the rounds to every conceivable group in the area. If you haven’t heard their pitch and seen their joyful video of kids dancing at every school, you should.

What I love most about NEO’s approach is that they see the big picture. They have researched other youth centers to find out what works and what doesn’t. They have a short-term vision and a larger long-term plan that includes other critical parties in the community and thinks big. They accept advice and help from everyone who cares to give it but they are clear that the ultimate direction must come from the youth themselves.

Lynne is equally motivated, sharing the following with me: “Growing up in Nevada County I was able to see firsthand the impacts from the lack of activities for youth. It was that experience that drove me to co-found NEO. NEO has become more than just a passion, I view it as my life’s work. … I couldn’t imagine a better or more meaningful way to spend my time.”

NEO’s mission is to “empower youth by creating new activities and alternatives to drug and alcohol use.” The first of four goals is to “reduce youth isolation,” based on a survey they did which showed that connecting/hanging out in a safe place was what youth wanted most. More and more data today indicates that “connecting” is key to helping reduce depression, addiction, and supporting longer and healthier lives. How great to promote that for the youth.

NEO’s most recent milestone is procuring a great temporary space to begin building public programs while they continue to fundraise for a permanent location. With bright multi-colored walls, a stage for bands, and a space for art, games, doing homework and just hanging out, this attractive center is a dream come true for many of us. NEO is celebrating the grand opening of their first public space on March 28, at 139 Joerschke Drive. I suggest you stop by, and bring your teenager with you.

We have an enormous number of great nonprofits in this community doing wonderful things, but there is only one doing the work NEO is. I hope you will consider supporting them, and help our youth ease into a healthy adulthood. Who wouldn’t want to help a group that is inspired by this great quote: “We can’t always build a future for our youth, but we can always build a youth for our future.” Maybe in Grass Valley today we can do both.

For more information about NEO, go to http://www.ncneo.org/.

Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at heidihallnevadacounty@outlook.com.

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