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ProjectYouth+ opens new facility in Grants Pass

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTom Drummond talks with students Abrahm Knight and Emilio Gonzalez on Wednesday during the opening of the new ProjectYouth+ center in downtown Grants Pass.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFrank Boothby talks with Congressman Cliff Bentz on Wednesday about the opportunities at the new ProjectYouth+ center in downtown Grants Pass.
The organization that helps “dreamers” complete high school, college and secure a job moved into a bigger building allowing for more opportunities

GRANTS PASS — More than 30 years ago, the building that now houses a local organization meant to help at-risk public school students and young adults was a flower shop.

In public remarks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on a cold Jan. 26 morning, ProjectYouth+ CEO Kurt Hildebrand couldn’t help but invoke lovely springtime images to make a point about its founders, Tom and Judie Drummond.

“Tom and Judy believe that everyone has some blossoming to do — and not just the youth. Our staff as well, myself included, have developed and grown through this organization,” he said. “We’re excited for this phase. Thank you for joining us and celebrating a pretty big milestone.”

ProjectYouth+ started out under a different name in 1998 to help the youth they call “dreamers” graduate from high school and college before assuming a successful career across a variety of sectors.

The new building, at 789 NE Seventh St., is 4,500 square feet, more than twice the space ProjectYouth+ inhabited for years, according to Kim DeSimone, the organization’s project manager.

“My vision for it was really to have a space where we would be accessible to youth and families,” she said. “Our previous space was way out in an industrial park … not really easily accessible to youth.”

Since the building ProjectYouth+ is in now was originally meant for florists, DeSimone noted that the facility contained retail space and large refrigerators.

“We gutted the whole thing,” DeSimone said. “We’ve really done a lot of work here, and I think added value not only to the building itself but to the neighborhood and the community.”

ProjectYouth+ purchased the building in late 2020, and major renovations were supposed to be complete by July of 2021, but the pandemic delayed that. Finally, in December, ProjectYouth+ moved in.

“It means so much to have seen this organization grow … and now, to be here, is sort of the icing on the cake to bring it all together under one roof and have an amazing space that I hope youth feel comfortable in,” DeSimone said. “But (it’s) also a nice place to work.”

Congressman Cliff Bentz was among those who attended the ribbon-cutting and toured the new building.

“It’s community driven — the people of this community stepped up to help; they didn’t wait for someone to come along and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to help you,’” Bentz said. “When you see people working to help others in the community, that’s an extraordinarily positive thing.”

Co-founder Tom Drummond spoke with Bentz for about a half-hour, touching on the state of the “dreamers” and how they’re faring during the pandemic. Drummond also talked about them in public remarks when he detailed how ProjectYouth+ began nearly a quarter of a century ago.

“We had a dream of starting a program to help youth in this community who were fighting some odds in their lives, but had awesome potential,” he said.

What started as a “shoestring budget” service to 33 public school students ballooned into something bigger once the community started supporting them, Drummond said. That support translated into being able to secure major contracts and grants.

“We were really David going up against Goliath — we were going up against major universities from all over the country,” Drummond said.

Today, ProjectYouth+ partners with 22 schools in Southern Oregon, focusing on serving more than 1,300 students in grades 6-12 and youth up to the age of 24.

The organization’s services include a mentoring program to prepare for higher education called College+; career building, offering over 100 paid work experiences; “Whatever It Takes,” which helps prevent high school students from dropping out; and +Accounts, which contributes $3 for every $1 that a participant saves toward their post-secondary education or job training.

“Our dream has gone far beyond what we ever expected,” Drummond said. “This is a dream come true for us. Hopefully, it’s a dream come true for many youths and those of you who are staff members, board members and community members.”

Abrahm Knight, a 16-year-old junior at Grants Pass High School, was among the youth who attended Wednesday’s festivities.

He learned about ProjectYouth+ when he was in the sixth grade and has since joined the organization’s student advisory board. It’s afforded him opportunities to go on trips, ranging from college tours to aquarium site-seeing.

“It’s just really fueled my love for knowledge and the desire to go to college,” Knight said.

Without ProjectYouth+, “I’d be pretty lost,” he added.

Knight hopes to become a civil engineering major minoring in a language at the University of Oregon.

The way Knight sees it, the new building in Grants Pass shows how much ProjectYouth+ can do for the people it serves.

“It’s really a landmark for what they’ve become and what they can do,” he said

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.