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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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In Kids & Family

The Holton Youth Center opened in 1989.

Holton Youth Center struggles to survive


The Holton Youth Center, 510 E. Burleigh St., opened in Riverwest in 1989. The youth center was an independent organization until 1994, when the YMCA added the center to its mission. However, as of June 1, the Y no longer funds the Holton Youth Center, leaving the future of the organization unknown.

"The Y has been reevaluating how they do things -- and what they do -- and they determined they could be more effective in other areas," says Mario Costantini, founder and board member of the Holton Youth Center. "We are all very grateful to the Y for being our partner for 14 years."

Although the long-term plan for the Holton Youth Center is uncertain, there is a temporary solution. The Hope School, a tenant in the same building, offered to stay another year for reduced rent. In exchange, it will keep the youth center's doors open until 9 p.m. on weekday evenings and for eight hours on Saturdays.

Although this isn't an ideal situation, it gives Costantini and the rest of the board another year to find a permanent plan.

"We're hoping to find a solution, but there's no guarantee. We could close. But for now, we have a window of opportunity, and there are several possibilities," says Costantini.

One of the possibilities is for the building to house a combination charter or choice school along with a youth center.

"It would be a hybrid of what we have right now," says Costantini, who owns the successful La Lune Collection furniture store and manufacturer at 930 E. Burleigh St. "I'm talking to lots of groups right now that might be interested."

Another solution would be to offer the space for free or for reduced rent to several youth organizations in exchange for maintaining the youth center. This is a viable financial option because the Holton Youth Center board owns the building.

Costantini, who moved La Lune from the Third Ward to Riverwest in the late '80s, says the Holton Youth Center is integral to the health and safety of the community.

"When we moved here, everyone said it was the dumbest idea we had ever had. In 1986, this was not a good neighborhood. There were lots of gang issues. There was graffiti everywhere," he says.

"We think that if (the Holton Youth Center board) had not worked really hard to get rid of the gangs in the neighborhood, and get rid of youth crime, that there wouldn't be new condos. There wouldn't be Alterra. And (La Lune) probably wouldn't still be here, either."

The Holton Youth Center works to recruit kids from the neighborhood who are at risk or already in gangs and / or trouble.

"The easiest way to restore a neighborhood is from the bottom up. Little kids are still on the fence, and you have the chance to help them find the right direction," says Costantini. "The Holton Youth Center would be an incredible loss for Milwaukee."

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