Bright News

Bright Futures for Youth Held Grand Opening of New NEO Youth Center on Litton Hill as Part of Lights on After School Celebration on Oct. 26

$500,000 Capital Campaign-funded Youth Center includes a café, music room, small stage and game area. Several hundred youth every year will develop friendships and learn new skills at the NEO Youth Center

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – Bright Futures for Youth celebrated the grand opening of the NEO Youth Center on Litton Hill on Oct. 26 – and the community’s commitment to fund and support a safe and supervised space for young people in Nevada County.

The NEO Youth Center is located on the ground floor of the Bright Futures for Youth campus at 200 Litton Drive in Grass Valley. 

Free food, from grilled cheese sandwiches to CoCo’s Lazy Dog Ice Cream, and numerous activities – including a ball pit, bounce house, corn hole, gaga ball, and Nerf zone – and tours of the NEO Youth Center were part of the 4-8 p.m. grand opening. And it was a celebration of Lights on After School, a national event that highlights the importance of after-school programs.

The 3,700-square-foot NEO Youth Center – the first large youth center in Nevada County – includes a café, small stage, music room, a game area, a flex room for multiple uses and a patio. The NEO Youth Center is available for 11- to 25-year-old residents and offers a long list of after-school activities and occasional weekend events, from art workshops to live music and open-mic nights.

“It’s amazing and heartwarming how much the community has come together to support our dream and make the NEO Youth Center a reality,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Youth. “The NEO Youth Center provides a safe place for young people, where they can connect with each other and make new friends, develop and improve their skills, explore their passions like art and music, and even get some help on their schoolwork, if needed.”

The NEO Youth Center was funded by a $500,000 capital campaign, the largest-ever for Bright Futures for Youth, an organization that started in 1995 as The Friendship Club and now includes NEO and SAFE, a program that assists youth experiencing homelessness.  

More than 100 individuals and small-business owners donated to the capital campaign. The Del E. Webb Foundation awarded $150,000 to the project. Longtime community members Gary Twing and Lynn Kerby also made signification donations.

“We have a very special community that is deeply committed to supporting our youth, whether it’s donating money or volunteering, or both,” said Greg Bulanti, President of the Bright Futures for Youth Board of Directors and a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Grass Roots Realty. “The NEO Youth Center is just the latest example of residents coming together and helping the next generation in Nevada County.”

The previous NEO Youth Center closed in early 2020, just as the pandemic arrived and greatly affected get-togethers under health and safety protocols. This was shortly before the merger between The Friendship Club and NEO. NEO program participants have been meeting in a small space at the Bright Future for Youth building on Litton Hill during the past three years.

The new NEO Youth Center is able to accommodate many more young people, and provide access to a wide range of services, such as healthy meals. The youth center is also a place to make friends, learn new things and build leadership skills. Some NEO youth also benefit from Bright Future for Youth’s other two programs that operate on Litton Hill.

“It’s a dream space, from the café where kids can grab healthy food to the music room and small stage where they can learn, practice and perform,” said NEO Program Director Halli Ellis-Edwards, who cofounded the program with Lynn Skrukrud. “All of our programs and young people are now under one roof, and that creates a lot of energy – and synergy for the organization.”

Several hundred young people participate in NEO every year. Bright Futures for Youth leaders believe the NEO Youth Center will attract more youth to the program, benefiting those participating and the community overall. 

After-school programs like NEO allow children and young adults to develop friendships and learn from their peers, while the NEO Youth Center gives them a comfortable and friendly space.

“Connecting and developing friendships and sharing experiences are critical for students and helps them down the road,” said Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott W. Lay. “And having a safe and supervised space helps keep kids on track.”

The NEO Youth Center’s after-school program started Monday, Nov. 6. NEO is always looking for volunteers.

“The NEO Youth Center will be a very special place, filled with much creativity, endless energy and, most of all, a lot of fun,” Halli-Edwards said. “It’s a great place for young people and adults who want to volunteer and help the next generation of adults succeed.”

More than 20 contractors worked on the NEO Youth Center, with many discounting their services, including construction manager Richard Baker of Richard Baker Projects. Siteline Architecture was the architecture firm for the project.

“The NEO Youth Center is truly a community effort, a community success story,” Singer said. “The Youth Center is only possible because of the commitment, hard work and dedication so many people have for our children and young adults. Opening the Youth Center is a major accomplishment, and will take ongoing financial support.”