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  • Youth center expands its footprint

    NEO to add more activities as demand grows for its services

      Andrew Wedgbury

    Nevada City Advocate 


    NEO, the nonprofit youth center on Joerschke Drive in Grass Valley, has completed plans to take over the rest of its current building, giving much needed space for the increased demand for youth services. 

    Close to 5,000 square feet of space will offer centers for media and skill development, music recording and playing, art, study and tutoring, plus a kitchen and café. 

    Founded in 2015 by Halli Ellis-Edwards and Lynn Skrukrud, the center offers free after-school drop-in hours five days a week for middle-schoolers, high school and college-aged students. 

    “We are super excited,” Ellis-Edwards said. “Last year after summer we knew we had to expand, and we started looking in the community because the back part of the building was not an option.”

    The group had specific needs for its new center, such as an outdoor area for kids to play and a garden but couldn’t find a suitable property in town. 

    “We were actually planning on leaving this site, but then the back part opened up and we jumped right on it. It’s been months, but we did just sign the lease,” Ellis-Edwards said. The new addition, formerly an auto repair shop, adds more than 75 percent more space and includes a large outdoor area, she added.

    The NEO group had previously received a grant from Nevada County to renovate the front yard of the facility, but now it has been approved to use on the new backyard. Plans include a basketball court, a garden and a meditation area with running water.

    The new indoor warehouse area will need a lot of renovation to get up and running, and NEO held a Warehouse Party in April as a kick-off for a sustained fund drive. Featuring a lunch and dinner, compliments of Maria’s restaurant, the nearly sold-out event gave a sneak peek at the new facility and an opportunity to donate through auctions. 

    Keynote speakers Hayley Pritchard and Mary Vogel gave heartfelt speeches about their positive personal development with the guidance of NEO, and attendees saw a video of the positive impact of the organization on area kids. A large artist’s rendering of the proposed renovations was also unveiled.

    “We’re going from 1,500 square feet to about 5,000 and that doesn’t even include the outside back yard,” Ellis-Edwards said.

    The new space is much needed as number of kids using NEO each afternoon has increased dramatically.

    “Last year at the end of December, our highest daily attendance was 55,” she said. “Last month, our highest daily attendance reached 68. It just keeps growing and jumping across the board. We’re seeing nearly 130 visits per week.” 

    Having a safe, positive and engaging venue for kids who might otherwise be unsupervised has always been a driving force for NEO, and with the additional space there could be an increase in hours and events. 

    “We haven’t figured that out yet, but we definitely want to,” Ellis-Edwards said. “Right now, we separate the days – junior high, high school – and then some combination days, so that they have a space of their own. We worked really hard this year to make sure the high school students had a place of their own.” 

    Ellis-Edwards emphasized the organization is going to need an increase in volunteers more than ever. Besides projects that normally happen every week with volunteers, NEO needs experienced construction workers willing to help renovate the youth center. In addition, volunteers can help by donating materials or resources or by joining the board of directors, advisory council or a planning committee.

    “What’s really important to us is to have mentors engaging with the youth in conversations, games and activities. We want adults who just have a heart for the kids, who can do that,” she said.

    When asked if she envisioned NEO in such a large facility and growing so quickly, Ellis-Edwards laughed and pointed to an artist’s rendering on the wall. 

    “Actually, we were looking at six acres,” she said. “When we started we were just teenagers who had a huge dream for our community and for the youth, and we put 110 percent into it and worked hard. But we decided to break this up into phases, because we’re not able to raise $5 million and buy a six-acre property, so let’s start small. And then that’s when we decided to open this site.”

    If interested in donating time or resources, contact NEO at 530-263-7742, or lynn@ncneo.com. And who knows, maybe the next fundraiser will be for that six-acre parcel.

    About the Photo:  

    Halli Ellis-Edwards, left, and Lynn Skrukrud, founders of NEO, flank a rendering of new space for the youth center.

    Photo by Andrew WedgburY