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NJCDC Cuts the Ribbon on the Great Falls Youth Center Expansion

NJCDC Cuts the Ribbon on the Great Falls Youth Center Expansion

December 7, 2023

View on Ribbon-Cutting photos on Flickr.com.

Please watch our Ribbon-Cutting video.

NJCDC first opened the Great Falls Youth Center in March 2018, after transforming an abandoned American Legion Hall into a safe community space for Paterson teens. The Youth Center has since grown to serve over 100 students each day, more than the existing space could comfortably accommodate. Last year, we broke ground on an expansion to serve more students and better meet their needs.

On December 5th, we gathered at our Great Falls Youth Center to celebrate the official opening of the expansion after over a year of construction. In attendance were Great Falls Youth Center staff, students, and alumni; community members; public officials; and Mrs. Marilyn Clark, whose generous donation made this expansion possible.

NJCDC Founder and CEO Bob Guarasci thanked everyone who made the expansion possible, giving Paterson youth a safe place to grow, learn, and have fun. He then welcomed Reverend Arturo Lewis, a Paterson native, for the invocation; Rev. Lewis is Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Ridgewood, and he initially connected NJCDC with Mrs. Clark with the help of Vaughn McKoy, NJCDC's former Board Chair.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh spoke and shared how important it is to invest in Paterson's youth, and he also lauded Mrs. Clark's generosity to the people of Paterson. The City of Paterson provided $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to help with construction costs.

NJCDC's Chief Program Officer David Gelman, who oversees more than 20 youth development programs, then welcomed Tiffany Shepherd-Kearny, the director of the Great Falls Youth Center. Tiffany spends every day working with the Youth Center's teens and expressed her excitement for the new programming she can now offer. Tiffany then invited two current students, D'Asia Curry and LaJay Johnson, to share their experiences at the Great Falls Youth Center. "It is a special place to me and it will forever be in my heart," said D'Asia, who credits the Great Falls Youth Center and its staff for helping her overcome her shyness. "I've even met a lot of new friends, I will always be grateful for that.

The next speaker was Danny Gonzalez, a program alum who started going to the Great Falls Youth Center when it first opened in 2018. In addition to being a student at the Youth Center, Danny — who graduated from college in May — also continued to return as a mentor for new students. "While I sincerely believe the true heart of the Great Falls Youth Center is its people," he said, "I want to make sure you all know that it was because we had a safe space to come to after school each day. We were able to connect and make long-lasting friendships."

After the students shared their stories, Mrs. Clark was invited to speak. In 2021, Mrs. Clark wanted to support Paterson youth and reached out to NJCDC to find out how she could help. Her generous donation made the expansion possible! "It's just such an exciting day to be here at the Great Falls Youth Center, and be part of this celebration," said Mrs. Clark. "To hear what this center means to young people like D'Asia, LaJay, and Danny, and the impact it had on your lives, is truly, truly inspiring. I believe that when we invest in young people, we're investing in tomorrow's leaders. And what could be more important than that?"

Mrs. Clark was then presented with a scrapbook from the Youth Center's students, with photos to show Mrs. Clark the different activities and programs they have been enjoying. The scrapbook also included thank you notes written by the students, expressing their gratitude to Mrs. Clark and their excitement about the opportunities the expansion will bring. We also presented certificates to several guests who helped make the expansion a reality, including elected officials such as Senator Nellie Pou and Mayor Andre Sayegh, who advocated for the project and helped secure funding; Ben Horten and Aydin Atakent, the architect and developer for the project; and others.

Following the program, we ventured outside, where Bob, Mrs. Clark, and other honored guests gathered to officially cut the ribbon on the new expansion. We then cut a ceremonial cake honoring this special occasion!

Afterward, guests toured the new spaces in the expansion, including a podcast studio where students will be able to share their stories and amplify the youth voice in Paterson; a multipurpose room and conference room that will support many new activities; a multi-purpose addition to the original building, which currently hosts a Santa's Workshop station for our upcoming 30th Annual Holiday Party; and a new rooftop deck for outdoor programming.

As Mrs. Clark cut the cake to conclude the ceremony, Bob Guarasci expressed the following sentiment: "May this new space be a place of transformation, and opportunity, and hope, as well as fun, for the young people of Paterson."


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