Come With Us As We Get A Sneak Peek Into The Franklin Township Youth Center

Township officials hope that the new Franklin Township Youth Center will soon be bustling with activity.

There are still some final touches to be applied, equipment to be mounted and other last-minute details to be attended to, but the new Franklin Township Youth Center is nearly ready for its close-up.

The 24,000-square-foot, $9.8 million youth center on Lewis Street will eventually house a variety of programs ranging from helping township students aged 12-18 years with their homework, to improving their sports games to sharpening their audio and video producing skills.

There is already some programming going on, the Franklin Township Police Department’s Community Relations Bureau is running its “Franklin Fit” program out of the center’s fitness rooms.

In addition to the fitness rooms and full-sized gym, the center will also house a full branch of the Franklin Township library, a concession stand, meeting and classrooms, and a media room, in addition to others.

“This is going to be a fun place and have a lot of activities,” said Tony Taveras, the Center’s manager. “We’re also trying to put together some fun clubs the kids will enjoy,” such as a drum club, media club, photo club, and fashion design club.

“There’s a high level of interest of kids who want to be involved in those clubs,” he said.

“We wanted to be sure we had offerings for those kids who are creative, for kids who want to focus on their academics, we have tutoring and things like that, those who are very sports oriented and those who are combination of all three,” said Windy White, Deputy Director of the township’s Recreation Department. “We’re trying to tap into the potential of the young people here in Franklin Township.”

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate went on a mini-tour of the new Youth Center:

All programs will be free, White said.

There will be a video game room featuring PlayStation Xbox, and which will also serve as a place where kids can learn coding, said Saffie Kallon, the township’s Special Projects Manager.

The fitness room will feature equipment such as rowing machines, treadmills, free weights and medicine balls.

The Center will also offer family therapy services through third-party vendors, White said.

“If they are facing issues or challenges, we do have a family room upstairs, with therapy support services as well,” she said.

Officials hope the concession stand will help teach kids business skills.

“We’re working with Orvyl Wilson (the school district’s Director of School Management) and through Somerset County Youth Services Commission, we wrote a grant to offset costs,” said township Recreation Director Beau Byrtus. “The plan is to have a fully operational concession stand that will be managed by youth.”

Byrtus said the skills that will be taught include “how to do an end till, reconcile money, pre-ordering, basements and ceiling in terms of inventory, customer service skills. Ultimately, we will get to the point where it’s self-sustaining, and the full circle gets completed that way.”

“We want to do all of those kinds of things so that our youth are coming out of this facility … and have a set of job skills,” he said.

Kallon said that while the emphasis of the center will be doing and learning, there will also be lounge space provide for kids to just “hang out.”

“We understand the idea that some kids just want to hang out,” she said. “We’d love to say the while things will be educational … part of the education will be kids hanging out and being with their friends.”

Kallon said the Center, long championed by Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large), should open early in 2022.

Francois said she has been working on the idea of a youth center since 2007, when she founded the Franklin Youth Initiative, a “partnership between Franklin teens and adults aimed at making the Township better for teens by organizing teen trips and events, creating recreational and educational programs, and searching for employment opportunities,” according to its web site.

The group’s first home was Franklin Middle School – Hamilton Street Campus, into which it moved in 2011. But, Francois said, the group quickly outgrew that space.

The township bought the former headquarters of the Somerset Community Action Program on Lewis Street in 2016. After several “town hall”-style sessions with residents to determine what would be offered there, ground was finally broken in August 2019.

“I am elated that the building is ready to open and am excited for what the future holds,” Francois said in an email. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic we have to proceed with caution to ensure our children are safe.”

“The Youth Center is beautiful, practical, forward looking, and amazing,” she wrote. “The design is entirely based on  the input received from the youth and the community. I really believe  the programs and services that the township, service providers, and community partners will provide in the Center will be the multitude of investments that will create and empower our next generation of leaders.”

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