Justin Beene has always dreamed of developing a youth center near his old neighborhood. He’s living proof that dreams do come true.
Although it’s only been a few months since the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation opened its doors at 1530 Madison Ave. SE, Beene, the director of the center, already has big plans for next year. The approximately 30,000-square-foot building currently houses 10 programs focused on youth and community development, and will be adding more to its roster in 2016, including small businesses and housing.
The center’s stated mission is “to create opportunities for transformation through meaningful relationships, work, education and community revitalization.”
Beene described the center as a partnership between Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services, Building Bridges Professional Services — a local social enterprise that trains and employs high-risk youth — and Byron Center-based Double O Supply & Craftsmen, a construction company that specializes in windows and doors.
The partners are “all committed to renovating an abandoned 120-year-old building in the Madison Square neighborhood and sharing space to continue to ‘rebuild lives and the neighborhood.’”
“In 2016, the center will launch a collaborative coffee shop and deli called The Rising Grinds Café, and will employ youth from the community and act as a place in which we provide the community with great coffee and food and also a space for people from all aspects life to come together. We envision millionaires eating next to homeless youth, youth on probation having coffee with police chiefs, the elderly with the young, black, white and brown people all showcasing the real diversity of our city,” Beene said.
“We will begin developing 24 units of affordable housing with Inner City Christian Federation in Tapestry Square near Division and Wealthy. Six units will be affordable units for high-risk youth and youth aging out of foster care (with rent no more than 30 percent of income). Students from the YouthBuild program will be helping to build the complex. A center staff will be there to support youth 16 hours weekly.”
Collaboratively, the partners in the Center for Community Transformation will utilize a number of grants, contracts and fee-for-services, providing the following: GED/high school diplomas; vocational training and certification in landscaping, construction, electrical, masonry and HVAC; on-site case management; mentorship; housing support; employment skills training; trauma screening; trauma informed youth development workshops; school retention support; and employment.
The center’s Building Bridges Professional Services social enterprise will further diversify its services to provide more landscape design and installation, as well as construction services. Double O will begin mentoring and hiring youth who have graduated from the programs, Beene said, adding the center wants to “expand our vocational training program and develop a more state-of-the-art facility to prepare students for the industry it is serving as an incubation site for a new coffee shop that will launched in the spring of 2017.”
It’s all to create a holistic environment for an emerging neighborhood in the Madison Avenue corridor.
“I grew up near here and went to Madison Square Church and played countless hours of basketball at the Paul I. Phillips (now Boys and Girls Club). I wanted to develop a community center that allowed young people to build on their assets and feel empowered by not just providing services but proving opportunities that affirmed their dignity,” he said.
“In 2010, I developed the first white paper that proposed what something like this could look like, but it took five more years to see the vision to completion. Almost $700,000 has been invested into the building, and this has come from a variety of sources. Double O acted as the general contractor; we specifically worked with many local and minority-owned companies from the beginning, such as R&R Mechanical.”
“Further, we engaged the community, employees, their family and friends, and youth. In fact, I would estimate over 80 percent of the building was completed by employees (of Double O, Bethany and Building Bridges) and youth who come to the building.”
The center works with ages 14 to 24 and annually expects to see more than 250 to 300 youth, Beene said. Building Bridges Professional Services and Double O Supply and Craftsman, however, also are committed to hiring adults from the community, he said.
“We realize that most businesses fail in the first five years and also that many social services unfortunately can create dependency instead of autonomy. At the center, we know that wealth creation is necessary for a transformed community and city, so we need to have businesses here that make profit. We also realize that, systemically, we have struggled as a city to have opportunities for certain populations,” he said.
“By providing support for youth and local residents along with employment, we can make a bigger difference.”
The center was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for YouthBuild, a comprehensive community development program that includes GED/high school completion, vocational training and a Leadership Development program. The funding is spread over 40 months. There are about 270 YouthBuild programs across the U.S. and globally, Beene said.
“Over the course of the 40-month program (we will work) with 62 youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who have dropped out of high school. Youth will do two days of education, two days of vocation training in the construction trades and building local affordable housing, and a day of leadership development/employment readiness,” he said.
“Currently, we are recruiting 20 youth to participate in this intensive seven-month program. Over 50 percent of the funds will go toward youth supportive services/stipends and to develop affordable housing.”
The center also received a $3.5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an “approximately $700,000 annual grant that will go for five years,” Beene said.
“We will be hiring a full-time GED instructor, two youth coaches, a business developer to help develop the social enterprises, a data manager to work with GVSU’s Community Research Institute to do a comprehensive evaluation to help us learn what is working and what is not working, a staff to spend time in the community engaging youth and helping them learn about what we have to offer at the center,” he said.