June 5, 2019 Cobb County: Kaleyah Halley presents her hula hoop to fellow campers during social emotional learning time at the ‘Water is Life’ collaborative youth enrichment camp on Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019, at the Austell Youth Innovation Center in Austell, Georgia. The goal of the Youth Innovation Center is to provide enrichment opportunities and improve graduation rates for youth in the surrounding community. The center opened on a site previously hit by the 2009 floods. (Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com)
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

New Austell youth innovation center helps kids focus on academics

Nearly 10 years after flooding destroyed homes and businesses in Austell, the city is celebrating the opening of a facility to provide young people with a chance to explore potential career interests.

The Youth Innovation Center at Legion Field, located on the site of a former senior center that suffered extensive damage in the 2009 floods, is a place where children and teenagers can participate in a variety of science, technology, engineering, math and arts-related programming, said program coordinator Pamela Dingle. It’s currently hosting Youth Enrichment Camps that teach younger children about nature, water, energy sources, literacy skills and the arts through hands-on activities.

The overall goal of the center, which opened in May, is to keep youth engaged and committed to their academic careers, thus improving the graduation rate at South Cobb High School, which serves the Austell area, Dingle said.

“Everybody is really coming together to make the community strong by giving students rich learning experiences,” Dingle said.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, the four-year graduation rate at South Cobb High School for the class of 2018 — the latest numbers available — was 71 percent. The rates for surrounding high schools were 84 percent for McEachern, 72 percent for Pebblebrook, 66 percent for Osborne and 84 percent for Campbell. The Cobb County School District’s graduation rate was 85 percent.

The idea for the Youth Innovation Center stems from the Austell Community Collaborative, a nonprofit group made up of local churches, business owners, city leaders and school leaders, who wanted a way to help local residents. Members contacted the city, which provided labor and materials to renovate the building. The project, which cost about $80,000, was paid for using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and Community Development Block Grant funding.

Dingle, a retired Cobb County educator, said there are about 20-30 children participating in the enrichment camps. Community sponsors are needed to help pay for expenses related to organizing and hosting future camps and programsshe said. High school students are also encouraged to volunteer at the center.

June 5, 2019 Cobb County: Jolli (left), Elizabeth Eastman and Aliceson Lewis (third) lead the line to go outside during the ‘Water is Life’ collaborative youth enrichment camp on Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019, at the Austell Youth Innovation Center in Austell, Georgia. The goal of the Youth Innovation Center is to provide enrichment opportunities and improve graduation rates for youth in the surrounding community. The center opened on a site previously hit by the 2009 floods. (Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Austell City Councilman Ollie Clemons Jr. said the center will give young people, who may be homeless or working to support their families, the tools they need to continue their education and find suitable careers. He said it’s been wonderful to see the Austell community come together to help youth.

“The initial response has been phenomenal and we are now seeking sponsorships and donations to help provide opportunity to young people,” Clemons said.

One Cobb County teenager is using her summer off to volunteer with the youngsters at the enrichment camp. Austell resident Stephanie Adim, a rising senior at South Cobb High School, said she heard about the center in the spring and thought it was the perfect opportunity to prepare her for her future career.

“I love working with kids, even in a nonprofessional environment,” the teenager said.

June 5, 2019 Cobb County: Lauren Brown pours water into the water wheel she and her group constructed while her instructor, Darlene Mercellin (middle left) and fellow group members, Kamari Williams (middle right) and Marleigh Dix (far right) watch during the ‘Water is Life’ collaborative youth enrichment camp on Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019, at the Austell Youth Innovation Center in Austell, Georgia. The goal of the Youth Innovation Center is to provide enrichment opportunities and improve graduation rates for youth in the surrounding community. The center opened on a site previously hit by the 2009 floods. (Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Adim said the Center can benefit both volunteers and the children who benefit from its services. The teens and young adults who donate their time will build their character, and the younger clients will be exposed to subjects that could spark an interest in a future career, she said.

For more information about the Austell Youth Innovation Center, email austellcitycollaborative@gmail.com.

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