CHAMPAIGN — City and county officials are hoping a new Youth Assessment Center in downtown Champaign will help at-risk youth who have, until now, fallen through the gaps.
Organizers told the Champaign City Council during its meeting on Tuesday night that the center is one of the initiatives that has come out of the Champaign Community Coalition, a group that was formed several years ago to address tense police-community relations and other social issues in the area — primarily those related to young people.
Officials say the youth center is a new effort to connect young people with community resources where piecemeal attempts to do so in the past have missed some juvenile offenders until it's too late. The center offers juveniles an alternative to the court system and a path to social services.
"As we were putting this coalition together, we saw a similar theme coming up as far as at-risk youth falling between the gap," said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb.
Darlene Kloeppel, the director of community services for the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said the center opened Sept. 23 and has already received 49 referrals — 41 have come from area police and eight came from others. Three of those, she said, were from families who walked in and said they just did not know what to do.
"Depending on what kind of situation they're in, (those young people) might have great motivation to go or they might not have so much motivation to go," Kloeppel said.
Some of those programs offered in the past — those administered through police departments, peer court sessions and juvenile court diversion programs, among others — are all part of the services the youth center offers.
But now it is a coordinated effort, officials say. The center is designed to serve as the primary intake location to screen young offenders and connect them with social service, mental health, educational or other community programs. Staff then follow up to see whether these referrals were helpful.
The Champaign City Council on Tuesday night agreed to use $15,000 to help fund the center. Council members said the center should be a great resource for young people as well as the law enforcement agencies involved and the school district.
"You always hear people say, 'No one cares,'" said council member Will Kyles. "Well, here's an opportunity to get people real help."
"I'm impressed with the thoughtfulness and the creativity and the care you put toward this," council member Marci Dodds said.
The youth assessment center at 402 N. Randolph St., C, will be open to the public Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. for an open house following a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The center is being funded with $240,000 from a previously existing countywide quarter-cent public safety sales tax and additional funds from the cities of Champaign ($15,000) and Urbana ($5,300) and the village of Rantoul ($10,000). Another $62,000 came through grants, and the Champaign school district is providing one of its buildings for the space.
Anyone wishing to inquire about the open house, services for young people, volunteering or becoming a partner agency may call 217-239-5933 or walk in during business hours. The center's hours of operation are Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to midnight and Saturday from 3 p.m. to midnight.
"This is just the beginning, and hopefully it will grow to become a much larger process," said Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz.