A larger than usual crowd was on hand to observe kids playing on Thursday evening at the Integral Youth Services Youth Center; parents, IYS board members, volunteers and community members all present to celebrate the center’s continued operations at an open house event to thank the community for its support.
It has been a tumultuous year for the IYS Youth Center, located adjacent to Mills Elementary School in Klamath Falls. The center provides a safe and supervised after-school hangout for students. While not the only after-school program, for many, the center is the only option for child care in the hours between school’s final bell and when parents return home from work. There is an arts and crafts area, games, homework assistance, coordinated activities, and even daily free USDA-approved meals.
In January, the center was nearly forced to close, after funding for the center had dried up following years of bridging funding gaps with IYS general funds amidst expiring grants that had fueled its operations. The community came to the rescue, rallying through online donations, fundraisers, individual and corporate donations, and the kids who utilize the center going door-to-door for bottles and offering whatever pocket change they could muster to save their beloved center.
The effort worked, for now, to keep the IYS Youth Center in operation; and Thursday’s celebratory event was a chance for those who oversee the center’s operations to provide heartfelt thanks toward those who kept the lights on. Further, it was a chance to educate the public about other programs IYS oversees, including Exodus House – a safe shelter for youth that lack a healthy home environment, and to let people know that the task to keep the youth center open is just beginning.
A total of $120,000 is needed to operate the center each year, fueled by volunteers to supervise daily operations and a dedicated group of residents who see the value in assisting youth that might otherwise fall through the cracks. That goal was met in July through fundraising efforts following an initial surge in February to save the youth center, but without long-term grants in place that funding goal must now be met every year to sustain operations.
“If the youth center goes, the people who are using it may not go elsewhere, and could be in a difficult situation,” said Larry Zeilstra, interim executive director for IYS. “If the youth center isn’t supported with money and volunteers, it would go away. Last year we got the money, but each year we are going to have to do this – it is a necessary evil being a nonprofit without a business to bring in money.”
IYS through its various programs is considering ways to streamline operations to better serve youth in Klamath County, but according to IYS Board of Directors member Paul Rowan, no drastic changes are expected.
“We are looking at ways to fine-tune operations; it’s adding a little here, cutting there,” said Rowan. “There have been some changes, and we are taking a hard look at internal workings. This is a time for re-evaluation, to see where we want to go as far as funding will take us and how we want to structure that.”
The situation is better than the dim prospects announced back in February thanks to continued support, but without long-term grants and financial support the IYS Youth Center’s future remains clouded. For now at least, Thursday was an opportunity to celebrate, have fun, and thank those who participated in saving a welcoming space for the area’s children.
“We are trying to make sure that what we have been doing works, and as we go forward with the different programs we have they remain viable and are still reaching the kids that we need to help,” added Zeilstra. “If IYS went away, there would be a hole in the community.”
To volunteer or offer financial support for the IYS Youth Center and other IYS operations, contact Integral Youth Services at 541-882-2053 or visit www.integralyouthservices.org.