Copeland Valley Youth Center continues to offer youth support despite future challengesCopeland serves around 350 young people of all ages. Kids come from across the city, east and west, most often by bus, bike or foot, rarely by car.
By: Thomas Vaughn, Duluth Budgeteer News
Counting change keeps Derrick Winn busy. Along with his friend Jesse Morrison, the two take shifts managing the Copeland Valley Youth Center snack bar.
“I’ve been coming here since I was about five years old. I like to volunteer. I learn skills for when I’m older, I’ve got a lot of mentors here,” Winn said.
Copeland serves around 350 young people of all ages. Kids come from across the city, east and west, most often by bus, bike or foot, rarely by car.
“They have lots of things you can sign up for, no matter what. Even if they say they don’t have staff coming, some staff will come to supervise. Sometimes we go to the beach, or play softball outside. And we almost always have the snack bar open,” said Martin Erickson, an upcoming fourth-grader at the new Laura MacArthur Elementary School site.
While Copeland raises funds on its own, and receives funding from organizations such as the Northland Foundation, the Ordean Foundation, and the United Way, the prolonged economic downturn has taken a toll on Copeland’s facility arrangements.
“Starting roughly in 2009, we knew that 15 percent would be cut from our budget. So, in 2010 we merged our two sites into one,” said program director Chue Vang, referring to the merger between Copeland Community Center, formerly in
Duluth’s Harbor Highlands neighborhood, and the Valley Youth Center within the former Laura MacArthur Elementary School building, now under demolition.
Vang closed the Harbor Highlands site last May. Now, Copeland is housed in a temporary building located near the intersection of Grand and Central Avenues. Scheduled to move into a space provided by ISD 709 within the new Laura MacArthur Elementary School building, it will be much smaller than what Copeland had in the old school building.
“We’ll have a small room for a community room, a small space for an office and then a little snack bar and that’s it. That’s going to be tough. We hope we can work it out with the school.”
Reduced budgets also mean reduced staff. At the time of the merger, 12 personnel were on staff. That number dropped to seven. Now, an average of five staff serve youth at the current location, summer staff included.
Strong relationships keep Copeland a destination place for kids, and they’ve lasted through up-and-down budgetary years.
“We’ve got kids that go to the Y, kids that go to other centers, but they still come here because they have a connection with the other kids that are here. We also engage with other sites — Neighborhood Youth Services to the Boys and Girls Club to Mind 2 Mind — and a few other youth centers. We engage with them through staff engagement or, again, the youth know each other,” Vang said.
Clarissa Leino is a summer staff member. She worked at Copeland during high school and now works at the center during summers as a college student studying education.
“I enjoy just building relationships with them, watching them grow up. I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years, so I’ve watched them grow up and get older, I just enjoy making connections with them,” said Leino.
Angelo Simone has worked with Copeland youth for 29 years. Simone mentors a traveling table tennis team that has won six national championships and dozens of city and state championships. He has taken his teams to Florida, New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit on multiple occasions.
“The only place we haven’t been is California,” said Simone. “If it weren’t for the center being here for me when I was a kid, who knows if I’d be here right now? So, I’m just trying to be a part of what these kids are doing in their lives right now and trying to make a difference. I’m just paying back.”
To learn more about the Copeland Valley Youth Center, visit www.copelandvalley.org.