Support new Yerwood initiative

Tomorrow is the first day of 2011.

But here in Stamford, it's also something even more important than that.

It's the first day of operation for a new Stamford Teen Center, which will open at the Yerwood Center on Stamford's West Side.

The Yerwood Center is one of the absolute jewels of this city. The work that it does helping Stamford's young people is invaluable. With the announcement of this new initiative, this jewel's luster grew even brighter.

This is an initiative that the entire city should get behind. If the idea takes hold, it will help Yerwood magnify the already tremendous service it provides.

The Yerwood Center has been forced to scale back hours and serve fewer young people in recent years due to budget cutbacks, according to Executive Director Eugene Campbell. That is precisely the wrong direction in which this city should be going. Kids need more help today, not less, especially those in populations most served by Yerwood, who don't have the resources at home that many other kids in the city do.

"Too many teens in this city do not have a viable option," Mr. Campbell says - and that is a situation that too often leads to trouble.

Mr. Campbell says the Yerwood staff is going to "step out on faith" in opening the center, but it looks like he has the right vision for what it should be.

"We are not just interested in playing basketball and singing and dancing," he said. "We are interested in workforce development. ... Too many young people do not know how to fill out a college application, or even an employment application."

Plans are for the center to serve teens between 13 and 18 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and during the day on Saturdays.

Mr. Campbell estimates the teen center will cost about $150,000 to operate in its first year, and rely heavily on funding from local businesses and help from volunteers.

Kudos to him and his staff for stepping up to answer a need in the city. All of Stamford should embrace this effort.