GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On the first of the month, a new center opened in Grand Rapids to help youth in need of help.
The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation is located on Madison and College Grove and is a partnership between the Bethany Christian Services Youth Department, Building Bridges Professional Services, and Double O Supply & Craftsmen. It serves around 260 youth each year.
“Probably in 2016, we’ll probably add an additional hundred so we could be up to 360 or 400. A lot of the youth are labeled underprivileged or at risk, but we really look at the assets of our young people,” said Justin Beene, the director of the center.
The center is inside of a 120-year-old building and it took about eight months to get the building up to par. Beene said a lot of the work was done by the students the center serves.
“In this building, the landscaping was done by a lot of the youth, the painting, the doors and the floors, all this renovation of a vacant building,” Beene said.
Beene grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Grand Rapids and wanted to provide a program to give the youth something he didn’t have.
“I always had a dream of creating a place where I wouldn’t have to feel less than other people, that I wouldn’t have to feel subhuman because I was poor,” said Beene.
The center offers services including GED training, vocational training and certifications, mentorship, housing support, and employment skills training.
“We also have about 80 students every summer that we hire here locally and then we send out to work all over the city, different jobs of their interest,” said Beene.
Beene said the center serves a wide range of young people.
“Sometimes we see youth who are in a major crisis. We see young people who are actively homeless and they don’t tell us for the first two months, but they’re living under bridges or living in the streets or sleeping outside of a mission or in the mission, and then we see some young people who again present very well and everything seems great, they seem to have a little bit of money, they have a car, but we realize there’s severe physical abuse or sexual abuse in their lives. We see young people from all over the spectrum. Often times they come to us because there’s some need because they’re looking for some type of help, but that’s not necessarily always the case,” Beene said.
Jameilla Ross, 20, is one of the students at the center. Four years ago, Ross was placed in foster care, became a mother and was struggling in high school.
“When you’re like 16 and you get into foster care, it’s kind of hard to find like foster homes or programs that you can do. I’m a teenager who had difficulties and like most teens, I needed help,” Ross said.
She took a life skills class for Bethany Christian Services and then got involved in the YouthBuild Program at the GR Center for Community Transformation. Since then, she’s passed her GED, and now works for the center’s employment program as a barista.
“It’s our coffee shop. We’re going to call it the ‘Rising Grinds Cafe.’ If I didn’t have this job or anything like that, I don’t know what I would be doing right now,” Ross said.
In January, she plans to start college at Grand Rapids Community College and then transfer to Ferris State University to study psychology.
“College has always been my dream anyway so I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I was,” said Ross.
Ross is aging out of the foster care program and said the center has also provided resources to help her.
“I asked for all the resources I can because I’m trying to move, get my own place, and I’m trying to get a car and I have everybody here to answer any question I would ever have,” said Ross.
She said the center has changed her life for the better, and has given her the tools to have a bright future for her and her son.
“It makes me think of how I’m going to leave my mark on this world. I think that’s what drives me the most. I just want to know when I leave, how am I going to be remembered, and this program has made it where I just I can put all my effort into the smallest things and it’ll be a memory that someone else is going to remember,” Ross said.