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August 5, 2019 - 10:03am

City of Batavia, YMCA directors eagerly anticipate opening of Liberty Center for Youth

liberty_center_logo.pngCalling it a “mad dash to the finish line,” City of Batavia Youth Bureau Executive Director Jocelyn Sikorski is counting down the days to the opening of the Liberty Center for Youth at the former St. Anthony’s School on Liberty Street.

A joint venture of the City of Batavia and the Genesee Area Family YMCA, the Liberty Center for Youth – until now known as the Teen City project – will provide a variety of services and activities for students from the ages of 9-16, with hours of 2:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during the school year and 1 to 6 p.m. during the summer.

It will replace the current Batavia Youth Bureau on MacArthur Drive, which will be closing its doors on Aug. 16, Sikorski said.

“We will start the move to the Liberty Street site (owned by City Church) on Aug. 19 and a kickoff event is planned for Aug. 29,” she said. “The actual launch (for kids) will take place on the first day of school (Sept. 4)."

Programs for youth will take place on the first and second floors while administrative offices will be housed on the third floor.

Sikorski, who also is in charge of the Genesee-Orleans Youth Bureau, and Jeff Townsend, district executive director of GLOW YMCA Inc., continue to oversee the ambitious venture, which stemmed from the results of a United Way needs assessment survey several years ago.

“The concept of Teen City came from the efforts of Erik Fix, who was director of the Genesee United Way at the time,” Sikorski recalled. “He put together a community needs assessment, with the results stating the need for more services for youth and teens. Erik was instrumental in getting the other players to the table.”

Fix, who now manages an M&T Bank branch in Rochester, said the needs assessment survey was conducted in 2013 when the United Way was “looking at who we were funding and why we were funding.”

“What we found was that there wasn’t enough (services) for that age group (teens and preteens),” he said. “So we took a look at boys and girls clubs and, after much deliberation, felt that the youth bureau and the YMCA were logical partners.”

He said they considered several locations before deciding on the former St. Anthony’s School.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring some life back to that part of the city and to restore the use of that building,” Fix said.

Townsend credited the United Way for igniting the spark that has led to a true community collaboration.

“This project would not be possible without the generosity of the United Way,” he said. “They not only did the needs assessment survey but they also put their money where their mouth was – and helped us generate much-needed additional support.”

Indeed, as the local United Way put up $50,000 for renovations of the building and has pledged another $10,000 annually to sustain the program.

Other contributions and grants have been provided by Bullet Aid, Rochester Regional Health, Ralph Wilson Legacy Funds, Rotary Club of Batavia, NYS Education Department, State Aid Recreation Program, YMCA of the USA and Marchese Computer Products.

The Genesee County Department of Social Services is funding special programming such as job coaching, life skills training, foster care support and peer relations.

Partnerships also have been forged with Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Genesee County Probation, Liberty Partnership at Genesee Community College, Batavia City Fire and Police departments, Richmond Memorial Library, GO ART! and Genesee County Business Education Alliance.

Even the cool logo (inset above) was created and donated by local artist Heather Ellsworth.

Both Sikorski and Townsend said opportunities exist for additional businesses that wish to promote activities for teens to get on board.

Townsend said the Teen City committee supports the new name as it “differentiates” itself from the landlord, City Church.

“Teen City may have tied it (the youth center) too closely to City Church,” he said. “This separates it from church functions. We don’t want City Church staff getting calls from parents concerning issues with the youth center.”

The start-up and subsequent daily operation of the Liberty Center for Youth are being split 50/50 by the City Youth Bureau and YMCA.

“We reduced costs by sharing the load -- mirroring our staffing, along with program expenses and what we have to offer,” Sikorski said, adding that the agencies have agreed to a five-year memorandum of understanding.

They’ve also worked together on grant funding, Townsend said, noting that the best thing is that it is free to the students.

When students arrive at the new youth center – busing will be provided by the Batavia City School District from the high school, middle school and John Kennedy Intermediate School – they will find the following:

-- A homework/technology room with 10 computer stations. (A “quiet room” until 4:30 p.m., Sikorski said.)

-- Cafeteria set up for arts & crafts, board games, skill-building activities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects.

-- A game room for ping-pong, foosball, air hockey, pool and table games.

-- Four-square and video game rooms.

-- Second-floor gymnasium.

Snacks will be provided on a daily basis, Sikorski said, but must stay in the cafeteria. The youth center’s code of conduct will align with that of the school district and must be signed by both the child and the parent/guardian.

Much renovation has been done to get the building in shape, Townsend said, including the placement of 28 security cameras inside and outside, and making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As far as staffing is concerned, Sikorski said the ratio of employees to youth will be at most 1:15, and both classrooms will always have an employee on duty.

The on-site staff of at least six part-timers will be supervised by Lydia Schauf, City Youth Bureau program coordinator, and Charitie Bruning, YMCA child care director.

Sikorski said the school district intends to find a use for the existing youth bureau building and pay all related expenses.

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