In April 2009, the Youth Wellness Initiative (YWI) formed a collaboration of local youth serving organizations to define issues facing youth in Crow Wing County. By the end of 2009, committees were ready to move forward on four projects: Peer-to-Peer Health and Wellness Education, Youth Voice in the Community, Youth Media and Artistic Development, and a Youth Center. Wheels were turning. It was time to take the leap.
A small downtown storefront was rented in April of 2010. With the assistance of an Ameri-Corps from YWI and a Promise Fellow from UMN The Brainerd Baxter Youth began developing our mission. A ballot vote by youth for a space that was once a chocolate shop, a watch repair shop, and jewelry shop. The name stuck and we became known locally as TheShop.
By word of mouth youth curiously dropped in and stayed when they realized that loitering was a welcome activity. In August of 2010 TheShop held its Grand Opening. We had donated furniture, books, games, computers, and art supplies. We had and a staff of 1 adult manager and 2 youth clerks. Youth embraced TheShop and made it their home in so many different ways. Now the adults needed to get busy and work on sustainability and we did.
TheShop moved to its current location at 723 Washington Street in October 2013, which more than doubled our space. Look for the bikes surrounding the front door and teens sitting on the picnic tables even before we open for the day. Programs and activities change all the time and channel youthful energy.
No matter the day we have healthy (and occasionally not so healthy) snacks and evening meals that connect us all around the dinner tables. TheShop feels comfortable for youth, a space to connect with peers and adult mentors through teachable moments, practice space for growing up.