Clockwise from far left: Heritier Badibanga, Rida Kori, Olivier Enwa, Joy Garelnabi, Abdillah Hassan, Ramzi Kori
Burlington youths will now have a space that they can call their own right in the heart of the Old North End.
Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department
and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont
on Sunday hosted a kickoff event for the O.N.E Youth Center, which is located on the second floor of the Old North End Community Center, the former St. Joseph School, on 20 Allen Street.
"The Youth Center is based on what the youths want," said O.N.E Youth Center director, Mellisa Cain. It will host programming for those ages 14 to 24, specifically youths of color and New Americans. "The point is to give youths something to do, something positive," continued Cain.
Some of the on-site activities include sports, homework help, games and job assistance. There will also be opportunities to visit colleges and attend concerts at Higher Ground
nightclub in South Burlington.
"They can play basketball. They can play soccer. It's self-organizing," added Cain.
Teens painting the O.N.E Youth Center signboard
The O.N.E Youth Center offers a space where students can "get support after school [and] gain mentorship, so that they can become better folks in our community," said Jacob Bogre, executive director of AALV. He's hopeful that the center can, "bring the community closer and be a safe place, where people can come, share and learn from each other."
Sara Moore, city councillor of Ward 3, echoed Bogre's sentiment. "My hope is that there will be more opportunities for relationship building for our community," said Moore, who was there to give out raffle tickets to participants..
Representatives from local nonprofit Rights and Democracy
were also at the evnet to make connections. "We're trying to get folks more engaged in the process of politics and show them there are potential progresses to be made," said RaD's Nate Lague. "We're always looking for folks to come out and volunteer at events or rallies."
Some of the youths at the kickoff event were high school students who are also members of a mentoring program that's spearheaded by AALV and Connecting Cultures, a clinic based in the University of Vermont
that offers mental health services to refugees.
From left to right: Amerle Nemeye, Olivier Enwa, Heritier Badibanga, Yusuf Mohamed, Hassan Kassim
"They want input from our group ... we came out to help," said Rida Kori, 17. "I could be a tutor for math, I'm pretty good at math."
"The point is to bring kids to the next level," said Kori's twin brother, Ramzi. "In the U.S., it's graduating ... high school and [going] to college."
It's not all about the academics, though.
"I want to have fun, that's why I showed up here with my friends," said Amerle Nemeye, a senior at South Burlington High School. He's also a member of the mentoring group. By engaging with his younger peers at the center, Nemeye hopes he can help them make healthy life choices.
Champlain Housing Trust
purchased the former St Joseph School from the St Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish Charitable Trust for $2.15 million in July. Both AALV and Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department are tenants. An elevator, new kitchen and bathrooms on the first floor have been built as part of the first phase of renovations. As for future renovations, the organization, "will have to wait until we've assembled the final financing package, which should be within a year or so," wrote CHT director of community relations, Chris Donnelly, in an email.
The O.N.E Youth Center is open on Monday and Friday, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m, and Wednesday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.