Nonprofit Spotlight: YMCA Youth Investment Center

The YMCA Youth Investment Center will celebrate its 10th Anniversary on November 12, 2016. Nestled in the heart of downtown, and strategically close to a handful of local schools, the center is a hub for kids in Puyallup. More than just a hangout, the Youth Investment Center is a safe place for anyone who enters its doors. “We have every kind of kid here”, explained Program Director Renne’ Gilliam. “We have the popular kids and the kids that don’t quite fit in socially, we have academically gifted kids and kids that are struggling in school, homeschooled and public schooled…everyone is welcome here.”

That sense of acceptance is obvious, even to a first-time visitor. A group of high schoolers are bent over a table, taking turns helping one of their friends with her math homework. Another group relaxes on couches, laughing and sharing stories. A middle schooler reaches into the refrigerator like he’s at home, grabbing a snack. “We use healthy snacks as bribery for the students to get their homework done…” Renne’ laughs, “…and it works!”

Kids and volunteers with Program Director Renne' Gilliam (far right)

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Kids pose for a picture at the Investment Center

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The Youth Investment Center serves up to 20 or 30 junior high and high school kids a day. And while kids are given freedom at the Center, they are also expected to accept and exercise responsibility. “This is a safe place to learn responsibility,” Renne’ explains. Each day has an element of freedom and an element of structure. Mondays feature “real life skills” classes, Tuesdays are focused on volunteering and serving the community, Wednesdays are about creating and maintaining healthy relationships, Thursdays have a youth group program called ‘Journey’, and Fridays are “Ridiculous Day”. Ridiculous Day is exactly how it sounds—a day to be ridiculous and have fun.

As Renne’ explains the weekly schedule, Mariah, a program regular holds up a canvas she has just painted, showing off its intricate, painstakingly detailed work. “I don’t really have nice paints to work with," Mariah explains, “so I just use what I have.” Renne’ reminds Mariah of how she wants to connect her with a local downtown artist for a mentoring opportunity. “We always focus on tapping into each kid’s interest and helping them come alive,” she explains. This opportunities are realized time and time again at the Youth Investment Center. When John started dropping in at the center, he was quiet and reserved. A volunteer who picked up on John’s obvious interest in bicycles mentored the student on how to repair and rebuild them. Now, John has a bike shop in one of the center’s closets and uses his time and talents to help others.

Much of the reason the Youth Investment Center is a safe haven is due to the words and actions of the kids themselves. “Every year we choose a theme,” Renne’ explains. “This year, our theme is creating a culture of honor by celebrating who people are without stumbling over who they are not.” Another consistent theme is serving others. Whether it's giving free hugs on the corner of Meridian and Pioneer or cleaning up a local park, the kids are invested in giving back to their community. This attitude and heart of service is practiced at the center, but also modeled by Renne’ day-in and day-out. “It’s just a huge privilege to serve teens here in Puyallup,” Renne’ says, “I love these kids and I love Puyallup.”

YMCA Youth Investment Center is a place where teens discover passions, strive for academic success, and prepare for future careers in a safe and supportive environment with support of educational, employment, and social services from staff, volunteers, and mentors. To learn more about the Youth Investment Center, call (253) 840-1214. (November 2016)

Youth Investment Center kids cleaning up the Silver Creek Trail

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