Ready to Launch: The Launching Center is Eager to Welcome Teens & Prepare Them for STEM Careers

In 2019, the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence County (BGCBLC) submitted a compelling Ready Communities Implementation Grant request for funding to renovate the Thornton Teen Center. By aligning the project with priorities identified in the Lawrence County Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction Plan, BGCBLC is positioning its Launching Center program to prepare our region’s youth for success in school and careers in the Uplands region.

Among the priorities the Launching Center hopes to achieve: (1) attract and train the region’s future workforce; (2) expand technical trade programs and apprenticeships for youth; (3) strengthen early soft skills development for K-12 students, (4) develop youth-friendly recreational opportunities and amenities; and (5) expand broadband and WIFI access.

A compelling component of the project features a partnership with area industry employers who will provide expertise and input regarding in-demand jobs, training needed to fill positions, guide development of curriculum and pathways, and serve as mentors who will teach students applicable work skills

After careful consideration by the grant committee and Board of Directors, ROI awarded BGCBLC a Ready Communities grant of $180,000 for its Launching Center. This multi-use STEM space will feature robotics, a makerspace, enhanced WIFI access, and a tech shop for elementary school children and teens in after-school programming. The Launching Center will introduce students to regionally relevant in-demand skills and jobs through project-based learning, soft-skills training, career awareness, and pathway activities. BGCBLC’s Launching Center is expected to directly serve up to 775 students through a variety of programs.

With publicity generated from the ROI grant, BGCBLC generated community interest and a local donor’s $100,000 challenge match to raise enough funds to pay off the building’s mortgage. BGCBLC also leveraged the ROI grant to apply for additional grant support. With $334,000 in hand, renovating the Thornton Teen Center into a state-of-the-art facility began in earnest in the spring of 2020.

Unfortunately, the road to completion was not without challenges as the Club stepped up to provide services during the pandemic. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the organization shut its door to members from March to June. Nevertheless, staff moved forward with renovations and purchases of makerspace equipment. The team learned how to operate the equipment and started making PPE equipment, delivering head visors with laser-cut face shields to the Lawrence County Health Department. To help children complete homework and stay connected, upgraded WIFI access points were installed and made available in the Thornton Teen Center parking lot.

Despite the many challenges presented by COVID-19, Launching Center renovations continued throughout the fall in preparation for a mid to late February opening. Staff members focused on curriculum development, creating tools for pre-assessing club members’ skills and levels of career awareness. With tracking methodology already in place, the Club is poised to monitor the success of its new facility and programming for each age group it serves.

BGCBLC’s Board of Directors and staff have made important upgrades to their programs and facility that will allow them to successfully serve Lawrence County’s needs. They have successfully delivered on the promise to develop youth-friendly opportunities and amenities while simultaneously addressing educational and workforce priorities identified by the community. In short, the Launching Center is ready to Launch, and BGCBLC is eager to welcome teens into a reimagined space that will provide transformative learning opportunities.