Marching for a youth center |

Marching for a youth center

The streets of downtown Grass Valley were filled with excitement and curious onlookers as a group of 100 community members made up of kids, teenagers and adults marched to show their support for opening a youth center in the community.

The event was called Lights On Afterschool, and was just one of the 8,000 events celebrated around the nation on Oct. 23 in support of after-school programs and the benefits they provide to the community.

Parents rely on after-school programs for child care, allowing them to work, support their families, and pay taxes. After-school programs increase learning each day and provide opportunities for youth to apply academic skills to their own interests, while engaging in hands-on, project-based activities.

Research also shows that after-school programs are an important factor for improving public safety and health by encouraging physical activity, good nutrition and by offering constructive alternatives to drugs and crime.

Local youth-serving groups deserve recognition as they play an important role in helping to keep kids safe and provide youth with opportunities to develop into successful adults.

In attendance at the event was the Grass Valley School District, Friendship Club, Girl Scouts, the Family Resource Center, the GREAT Summer Youth Academy, the Grass Valley Police Department and NEO. There were performances by the Nevada County Yo Yo Club and Step It Up Dance Studio.

Lights On Afterschool advocates for programs that help keep the lights on after school for all youth; the nonprofit organization NEO, who spearheaded the local celebration, was determined to shine the light on an important need in the community.

Currently, there is no designated, safe place for teens to hang out and socialize with peers on the weekends and for the majority of youth, once the school day is over they are left unsupervised and unengaged.

In August 2012, NEO surveyed 172 local youth between the ages of 9-25, representing 26 different schools. In the survey, youth ranked the lack of youth friendly activities, drug problems and negative attitudes and violence as the top three things they would change about Nevada County.

In the same survey, 87 percent of youth said the community needs a place for young people to go after school and on weekends and they ranked having a safe, supportive environment to just hang out in, as the most important thing to offer.

NEO has been in the community for six years, and has hosted more than 300 youth events.

After listening to feedback from the youth, NEO decided to focus efforts on opening a youth and community center that would create a permanent hub for youth services and provide a safe place for youth after school and on the weekends.

Since April of this year, NEO has collected over 1,000 signatures from youth in support of opening a youth center.

NEO wants to provide daily and consistent opportunities for youth to explore their passions, showcase their talents, learn skills for success and be supported in making healthy lifestyle choices.

NEO is ready to take the next steps needed in order to turn this community dream into a reality and the march was symbolic of their actions to move forward with the project.

Kids held posters, chanted together and even spoke on the microphone about why they want and need a youth center.

“I think a youth center is important because people should be able to be who they want to be and have a safe place to go to, especially to go have fun and do your homework,” said Charlotte Stehmeyer, Seven Hills middle school student.

To view a video of the Lights On Afterschool event and to learn more information about the Youth & Community Center project and how you can get involved, please visit

Halli Ellis, co-founder and co-director of NEO, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinion is her own and does not reflect the view of The Union or its editorial board.

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