When 14-year-old Meredith Trylch first moved to Puyallup from Alabama, she began feeling depressed and like she didn’t belong in her new community.
She then decided to check out the YMCA’s Youth Investment Center in downtown Puyallup, and eventually her outlook on her new community changed.
“They made me feel welcomed,” the ninth-grader at Aylen Junior High said. “I feel comfortable and safe coming here. I love everything we get to do here.”
The Youth Investment Center opened in 2006 with the goal to reach teens who need help.
“We’re trying to break that cycle of helplessness,” said program director Renne Gilliam. “Negative choices don’t become your identity. A bad choice isn’t who you are.”
Every week during the school year, Gilliam and a team of volunteers keeps the teens on a schedule. On Mondays, they teach what they call “real life skills,” which teach things such as money management or basic car maintenance. Tuesdays are community-focused, where community members come speak or the teens participate in a community service project. Wednesdays, Gilliam hosts a session on how to maintain healthy relationships with peers, significant others and adults in their lives. On Thursday, students participate in a youth-group-like program, and on Fridays the teens just get to hang out and have fun.
“They come here because they’re loved,” Gilliam said. “We have really incredible volunteers that come in.”
The center, located at 115 2nd St. SE, averages 15 to 20 students a day, 40 to 50 a week, and 200 to 300 in a year. Students in grades seven through 12 are welcome to participate or drop in at the center.
Ninth-grader Ana Myers says the Youth Investment center has saved her from poor life choices. Before she started coming to the Youth Investment Center she was involved with negative activity like drugs and alcohol, she said.
“I’m much more confident and happy than I was before,” Myers said. “This place saves lives.”
Myers followed in the steps of her older sister, one of the first teens to attend the Youth Investment Center when it opened in 2006. Now the center is a huge part of Myers’ life.
“It’s really welcoming and happy,” the 15-year-old said. “It empowers us to be great.”
The center serves children from all walks of life, and no qualifications are needed for students to go to the center, which is open from 2:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We love kids where they’re at, and help them to mature and grow,” Gilliam said. “We help kids be held accountable and grow them into maturity.”