By Meg Schmitt
The Galaxy Youth Center is not exactly a new face to the Grinnell community. The non-profit youth organization has a new look and a new location, however, as its recently opened home at 917 Main Street will for the first time feature a storefront, displaying items made by the local children who participate in the program.
Galaxy had previously been located on Commercial Street in a building provided for free by the local hospital. However, when the hospital needed the space back last year, the organization found itself confronted with the problem of raising money for the rent at their new location.
“We had this storefront and … we’d never had to pay rent, so we asked the kids [and] they decided what was really missing was someplace to buy gifts for each other,” said Shannon McNaul, an administrator at Galaxy.
The Entrepreneur Program was introduced as a way to supplement the organization’s income, as well as to give students practice running a business and a chance to get more involved in the community.
“We want to teach them philanthropy, as well as a business model… and the importance of giving back to your community because you’re a part of it,” McNaul said.
The kids have embraced the program by engaging in a variety of activities, including maintaining their sections of the Galaxy Storefront.
“I do enjoy [the art projects] … I’ve made 15 plates,” said Damien, a middle-school student and one of the storefront artists.
The kids can sell products in groups, like the trio that make A o K Jewelry, or individually, as McKenna, another middle school student, hopes to do.
“[My project] is a farm with lots of animals, where you can move them around and play with them … like my dad’s farm,” McKenna said.
While most of the items for sale are student-made crafts like McKenna’s farm or Damien’s plates, some have been selected by the kids as supplements to their gift shop.
“Our goal is to have positive products that [are within kids’ budgets],” McNaul said.
Sustainability and creativity is an enduring theme in many of Galaxy’s projects, as many students pursue green ideas in their storefront products.
“A lot of our projects are recycled, just trying to get people to see that recycling is a good thing,” McNaul explained, pointing out the line of girls’ beauty products, Sparkle Hearts, specially selected by its sellers for their eco-friendly qualities.
The program is proving popular with both the kids and the community, as more of Grinnell discovers this new side of Galaxy. The management of the shop is left almost entirely up to the participating children, with the support of the Galaxy staff at hand.
“[My favorite part is] that we earn money,” said Damien. “That’s cool.”
In addition to the brand-new storefront, Galaxy has transferred the unique after-school study and hangout space it offered at its old location.
The Center is splashed with zebra print rugs, red leather couches, piles of cozy beanbags and artwork everywhere. The book shelves, technology tables and kitchen provide space for the numerous craft projects, study sessions and cooking lessons the center hosts for the kids that decorate the walls in pictures.
There is also plenty of fun to be had, with everything from board games and books to iPads and Wii video game consoles scattered around the center.
“[Everything is] there if they want to do it, [but] we don’t make anyone do anything because this is a non-custodial program,” details McNaul.
Technology has moved into the Main Street location with the Galaxy organization, as the move coincided with the Grinnell schools’ introduction of one-to-one computers for all the students. McNaul, however, stresses the need to provide time to socialize, as well as to work with technology.
“One of the things that we’re seeing with technology is that the kids are losing that social skill of being able to have a conversation, give you eye contact, and those are social skills we want them to have,” she said. “[So,] the first forty minutes [at the center] you have to do something interactive with everybody else – it can be a board game, it can be cooking or having a conversation.”
The Galaxy storefront and its homemade trinkets and toys is open to the Grinnell community, as well as in their upcoming fundraiser auction on March 1. The event will include a dinner from the Peppertree at the Eagle’s Club on 4th Avenue, where an auction will take place starting at about 6:30 p.m.