Tuesday, May 4, 2010

civic building doesn't guarantee space for young people

Civic Building Close-Up, April 2010
This Saturday is the Gandhi Brigade's Express Yourself! Youth Media Festival, which will be held in various venues across Downtown Silver Spring. While the youth group was able to secure the plaza on Ellsworth Drive and the old AMC 10 theatres in City Place Mall for the weekend, they're hard-pressed for meeting space the rest of the time.

For years, they've operated out of a small, 800-square-foot storefront in City Place. It's a pretty convenient location for the kids who go there, many of whom come by bus from across Silver Spring and Takoma Park. But while the space would make a pretty large one-bedroom apartment, it's ill-equipped to accommodate workshops, film screenings, or even hanging out after school. The new Civic Building will have rooms publicly available for meetings or events, it won't offer any dedicated spaces to local groups.

On their website, the Gandhi Brigade's Nate Taitano outlines a "Youth Space Vision Statement" explaining the group's need for a more permanent home:
While Silver Spring has strong youth leadership with experience in event planning and community organizing, these valuable services are very difficult to perform without a dedicated space. Youth leaders have sought temporary space from local benefactors in the past; however, with no permanent space dedicated to youth, events, trainings, and meetings are constantly delayed and even canceled suddenly due to restrictions or red tape at the intended location even after months of preparation.

Designated space for a youth leadership group is the first step in attracting youth who would like to work in the service of their community. It would give them the stability to attract youth with inflexible schedules, and to plan events without the delays and cancellations that can be frustrating for many young people, particularly at-risk youth, who often turn to youth organizations for structure and stability lacking in other aspects of their lives.

By December 2010, we would like to see a space dedicated to a youth leadership contingent in the new Civic Center. This space will be the nest and den for the youth of Silver Spring: a safe environment of engagement, organization and freedom. This space will incubate traits of responsibility and a sense of community, and will aid in the development of hardworking, engaging youth.

This designated space will be a place for youth to improve their community and to bring lasting change to the Silver Spring area. This will be achieved through, among other things, volunteer programs, trainings in areas like community organizing, financial responsibility, speaking, media, and conflict resolution trainings, tutoring, counseling, healing circles, and of course a home for a newly created Silver Spring youth leadership group.
Now, the question is: how will Gandhi Brigade get themselves a new home by December? While the group has made surprisingly large contributions to the community since its inception five years ago, they're still a non-profit. The group can't afford to pay sky-high Downtown Silver Spring rents - but their work requires a pretty high-tech space. Despite there being a number of vacant storefronts and underutilized buildings throughout Downtown , will anyone be willing to offer a "designated space" for youth given these constraints?


srb said...

The first thing that popped into my head was a partnership with one or more of the organizations with facilities in DTSS. The Gandhi Brigade could reach out to AFI, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, Discovery, Roundhouse Theater, and the like to see if they would be willing to provide space and equipment for certain activities. Montgomery College may also be able to provide some assistance. However, I agree that in the long term DTSS absolutely needs a youth center.

bobrien said...

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retgroclk said...

In the days of yore when families

lived in detached homes, and had backyards and people were not crowded into spaces with no green space just tall brick, concrete and steel buildings-- we played in back yards, in the park or visited homes of our friends-- we did not need government funded meeting places.

Bob Fustero

Silver Spring Skaters said...

Let's just be clear that there are loads of youth leaders in Silver Spring, and only some of them are involved with Gandhi Brigade. I work with over 100 Silver Spring youth, many of whom are leaders among youth, and these kids have no involvement with GB at all.

While I understand GB's desire for space, the challenge they're facing is the same challenge every nonprofit faces -- and to my knowledge, the county isn't housing all of these groups in county-owned buildings. To suggest that this one group, who works with SOME local kids, deserves a spot in the Civic Building over and above every other local nonprofit, is ridiculous.

In 1999 I was invited by Frankie Blackburn to attend a Redevelopment Committee meeting to discuss specific uses of the Civic Building. Frankie was pushing for a computer training facility, and she invited me to the meeting in order to speak to that need. I did. Frankie contacted me later and told me that it had been agreed that there would be a computer training room in the building.

With one single room and some computers, lives can be changed dramatically through computer training -- training that youth AND adults can benefit from in very concrete ways.

11 years later, I question whether the promise that was made back then will be kept -- but 11 years later, a computer training room in the Civic Building is still one of the best possible uses for space in that building, and would benefit many more people, and in more concrete ways, than by giving space to one nonprofit, which would favor GB over many nonprofits, who all struggle with the issue of finding affordable spaces.