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 (BGCLC) submitted a compelling Ready Communities Implementation Grant request for funding to renovate a gymnasium within the Thornton Teen Center. By aligning the project with priorities identified in the Lawrence County Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction Plan, BGCLC is positioning its Launching Center program for youth success in school and a future career in the Uplands region.
The Launching Center priorities are: (1) attract and train the region’s future workforce; (2) expand technical trade programs and apprenticeships for youth; (3) strengthen 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. In the Launching Center, a space was dedicated to a rotating industry exhibit to allow area employers to showcase a piece of equipment, like an engine, to both students and adults.
As BGCLC prepared their grant application for ROI, they teamed up with 1st Maker Space to create a proposal and 3D model that would create a shared vision of success amongst all stakeholders. The original designs can be found on the 1st Maker Space website here.
After careful consideration by the grant committee and Board of Directors, ROI awarded BGCLC 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 students 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. BGCLC’s Launching Center is expected to directly serve up to 775 students through a variety of programs.
BGCLC leveraged the ROI grant by also receiving a $50,000 NBA All-Star 2021 Legacy Project Grant for STEM education along with a $27,442 donation from the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council/Workforce Coalition to further enhance the Lawrence County Launching Center project. With $257,442 in hand and over $74,000 of community based in-kind and matching pledges, renovating the west gymnasium of 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 BGCLC shut its door to members from March to June. Nevertheless, staff moved forward with renovations and purchases of makerspace equipment from 1st Maker Space. 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 of 2020 in preparation for a mid to late February opening. The 1st Maker Space team worked with the BGCLC Executive Director, Frank Decker, to turn the original design into reality, supplying everything from the flexible Fomcore furniture to the 3D printers and laser cutters. The local company plans to continue to support the Launching Center through its journey by providing technical support and training, supplies and ongoing equipment upgrades, and additional professional development for staff.
BGCLC’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 BGCLC is eager to welcome teens into a reimagined space that will provide transformative learning opportunities.