It’s almost as if Mother Nature conspired against Amado having a permanent youth center, a haven in a rural area 10 miles south of Green Valley fraught with challenges and temptations for kids.
A freak rainstorm three years ago swamped their previous quarters that pre-dated the 1950s. Pack rats got to their well-used transit van, essentially rendering it more costly to maintain than keep, and they have yet to find a replacement. Then came an unusually wet summer with lots of bugs, making it difficult to meet outdoors when it wasn’t already too hot to do so.
FLocal churches have stepped up and offered indoor space when feasible. Some programs met at Sopori School; other times, in Kay Stupy Park next door or parking lots. During COVID school closure, program lessons were provided through take-home packets, and staff made home visits.
It’s been quite a journey.
That was only the beginning of the pandemic wreaking havoc with plans to build a new center, doubling original cost estimates. Dismayed but undaunted, supporters pressed on with fortitude and dogged unwillingness to hold off until more stable economic times. After all, its programs to help at-risk youths cope with life’s challenges are what the center is about.
If postponed for long, all concerned would lose out, as potentially it could be years before enough money could be raised again, and possibly with continued pandemic-related increases looming.
Fundraising is still underway in earnest to launch the center’s construction in the park, on land owned by Sahuarita Unified School District.
Since the last update, $75,000 from Pima County has been approved for site development, utility extensions and connections, said Amy Bass, executive director for prevention at PPEP (Portable Practical Education Program), a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of rural life, which is overseeing the project. Other donors include Burton Family Foundation, a supporter of underprivileged youth, and some who choose to remain anonymous.
Leadership has $730,000 in hand toward the goal of $975,000.
Bass is counting on another $10,000 from the upcoming chili cook-off and car show fundraiser, and has fingers crossed for a $200,000 contribution from an anonymous donor.
“If that comes through, and I have faith it will, we’ll be within striking distance of breaking ground by February,” she said. She’d like not to have to take out a loan to see it happen.
Last summer, fundraising was within $10,000 of the $465,000 needed to launch the project, but it would take another $400,000 for completion, factoring COVID-19-era delays — labor shortages, shipping, supply-company closures, soaring prices of construction materials and gas for transport. Pre-pandemic, the construction estimate was roughly $365,000.
“We really can’t wait another year because the grants have time limits so we’re in jeopardy of losing them,” Bass said.
Separate from the construction funds, PPEP recently received $55,000 for youth programs from Pima County, and just got funding renewed by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Program for $94,000, to continue teaching life skills, Bass said.
“We can bring in more programs, it doesn’t have to be just ours that will operate out of Amado Youth Center.”
Youth programs began in Amado in 2008, which first met at the local Universal Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. In 2011, it moved to space next to the Cow Palace, a restaurant, bar and community hub for decades. The center abandoned the building in 2018 after a storm flooded it with mud and debris. Even before then, it saw many repairs.
Losing its van was a blow, as there are no other means to transport kids to and from programs and activities, particularly for after-school hours before parents are home from work, a crucial time for kids not to be left their own, Bass said. The center serves roughly 125 kids annually, and its after-school program operates at capacity most days during the school year.
Minus Mother Nature’s challenges, there are others to living in the remote, rural area. Among the largest is the lack of affordable and reliable internet service, means for low-income families to receive information about programs and news of upcoming events that may be helpful, Bass said.
The absence of public transit in general for the community presents other challenges, such as access to social services, medical care, counseling and treatment.
Bass and others are hopeful that having the center close to the school will provide a safe place to go for positive reinforcement instead of kids hanging out and being bored.
“That’s why the programs are so important because there’s not a lot to do down there,” she said. In addition to the delinquency-prevention program, the county officers a teen resiliency program; a block grant provides a substance-abuse prevention; and there several workshops to help parents understand and communicate with their kids, and how adult behavior at home can influence teens.
“If they start drinking as teens, chances of them becoming alcoholic are so much higher,” Bass said.
“We found in our data about kids who’re using (prescription) drugs, that a lot of those who do, do because they’re stressed or anxious. We talk to parents about trauma-informed care (which) a lot of parents identify with who realize because of their own stress and trauma, maybe they need a little extra help to cope. There shouldn’t be any stigma. We realize how common trauma is and want to reduce that.”
Teens get so many messages online, from the world, they always see someone looking better, she said.
“We need counter messages so they get messages about their value as a human being," she said.
The cook-off/car show event Dec. 11 began in 2010 as an Amado Business Association project, and included alcoholic beverages. Over the years, funds raised have supported the center but since the event is now a project of the Community Prevention Coalition, Amado Community Alliance and PPEP and because of their prevention focus, organizers opted to host it as an alcohol- and drug-free event, event chairman Ed Dunin-Wasowicz said.
Due to its regional draw, it qualifies as a visitor destination and as such, receives grant funds for overhead from Pima County Attractions and Tourism Department. Entertainers this year are performing at no charge to support the youth center, Dunin-Wasowicz said.
All proceeds from go to the Amado Youth Center building fund.