Posted on

Gerdon Youth Center is youth driven, for all the youth

I have debated whether to add my ‘comments’ to the already divisive circumstances (about the Gerdon Youth Center). First, please understand that my intent is not to take any side in personnel matters. I do, however, feel that as the founding director, I have some insight as to the initial foundation and guiding principles upon which the Center was established.
Very simply, it was for YOUTH ‘ all Harrison County youth. The Gerdon Youth Center took great pride in that from its humble beginnings it was youth-driven, youth-focused and youth-empowered. The youth drove policy, activities, funding decisions and even building projects (down to the paint on the walls).
Young people served as the backbone of the center. When I left in 2001, that was indeed my truest reward, to know that we were building attractive programs and also building leaders. In fact, youth were so involved in the daily operations of the center that they even had vital input in locating my replacement. The programs at the center were successful not because of any adult-driven agendas but because the adults (board included) valued youth as genuine resources.
When the Gerdon Youth Center opened its doors on May 30, 1997, there was no debate as to who the center was to serve. There was no labeling of ‘bad’ kid vs. ‘good’ kid, ‘at-risk’ or ‘underprivileged.’
The Gerdon Youth Center served ALL KIDS. The Furthering Youth Inc. mission statement does not include programs; it includes asset-building ‘ what all kids need to succeed. The center was designed by youth for youth so they might find the following: positive support from caring adult and youth mentors, opportunities to contribute ideas into their own community, clear expectations, constructive use of time, opportunities for learning, social competencies, and a strong sense of their own power, purpose, worth and promise.
When the Youth Advisory Council suggested a fitness room, the board worked diligently to secure that. When the youth council suggested an art room, the board worked with them to obtain that. Again, when the youth council proposed a ‘Climbing Wall’ ‘ the board figured out a way to collaborate on the design and fund-raising. Bottom line: youth-driven programming!
Is the Alternative School a worthwhile endeavor? Absolutely! As the guidance counselor at one of the sending schools, I would say without a doubt it fills a void.
Talk began of an Alternative School years before it became an actuality. One of the original concerns was that it would not BECOME the Youth Center. There was NEVER any doubt that this was a valuable and much needed service. I remind the board of directors, however, that all kids are our kids. Your responsibility is not to determine the asset of one program vs. another but whether the program builds assets in our youth.
When we begin to fight for the wrong cause, our kids loose. If our young people understand and support the need for the Alternative School program, and if they don’t feel that their needs are being ignored in the process, they will work to find balance. But it is not about adult egos, not about one position over another, not about who is in control; it’s about furthering the positive emotional, educational, physical and spiritual development of Harrison County youth to help them meet the needs of tomorrow.
By the way, that is the MISSION statement!
Thank you for at least taking the time to consider my thoughts ‘ I wish you well. You, the board members, are all noble servants who I know will make the right decisions.
Melissa Jackson, now the counselor at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School, was the first executive director at the Gerdon Youth Center. She served from July 1997 to August 2001.