Looking to appeal to young people in the community, the Esperanza Center in Hollister has created a youth drop-in center with air hockey, billiards and video games. Its Jan. 6 grand opening gave the 50 attendees a chance to check out the new features.
The youth-focused programming is a partnership between Community Solutions, San Benito County Health and Human Services and San Benito County Behavioral Health aimed at supporting residents ages 14-21. The center is state-funded through Senate Bill 855 and operates 3-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
While Community Solutions Program Manager Erica Elliott hopes the center becomes a popular hangout spot for local youth, supportive services will also be available, including case managers, homework tutors and workshops. Throughout this month, the Esperanza Center will host workshops on independent living skills and healthy relationships on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, respectively. Thursday sessions will focus on creative writing. Workshop topics will change in February.
“A lot of youth really wanted [workshops] around substance abuse and mental health, and so starting February we’ll be bringing suicidality and substance abuse classes as well,” Elliott said.
In addition, the youth drop-in center will provide snacks and dinners. Elliott said members will also have the opportunity to learn how to cook. Food is partly provided by Community FoodBank of San Benito County.
Esperanza Center can host about 75 members at once, Elliott said. Features of the center include an art room, play room, homework room, workshop room, and a center for members of the LGBTQ community. Youth members who participate in activities can earn “center bucks” that can be redeemed for gift cards or field trips.
Gerardo and Maria Sanchez, who have daughters ages 13 and 17, said the new drop-in center will benefit the community by keeping kids off the streets.
“Primero, van a invertir su tiempo en algo útil y aparte de eso van a tener ayuda para sus tareas,” Maria said. (First, they will invest their time in something useful and will also have help to do their homework.) Gerardo also said spending time at the center means youth can get help focusing on their goals and become community leaders.
The idea for the center stems from a two-week soft opening in December, where staff obtained feedback from around 15 youths and incorporated it into their programming.
Fifteen-year-old Ariana Ventura participated in the soft opening and said the youth center was better than hanging out at Target. Suggestions included creating a success wall where they could highlight their grades, certifications and other achievements.
“The success wall was one of the ideas from one of the youth that had come in,” Elliott said. “He had mentioned that nobody ever honors the good stuff he does. They only see the negative.”
Elliott said the youth center is also an opportunity for the community to give back and connect with local young people by volunteering and/or using their skills to lead a workshop.
“I’m really excited to see how this grows, how the youth respond,” Elliott said. “I think it’s going to be a much-needed space, especially for these high-risk youth that don’t have a safe place to go after school.”