■ By Elyse Askari / Reporter
What started in 1998 as a program to get kids off the street became something that would eventually blossom into one of the most beneficial, community invested and inspirational programs in the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley, otherwise known as My City Youth Center here in Hemet. Dan and Becky Harris first opened their doors more than 17 years ago, and have grown substantially since; embracing change and trials head on in an effort to reach out to the at-risk teens around them.
Encircled by houses and neighborhoods chock full of young kids, My City Youth Center is located at 145 N Tahquitz Ave. in Hemet. It looks small on the outside, but once inside, a world of opportunities and creative inspiration open up for the youth that gather there.
My City Youth Center is a nonprofit organization that provides free after school programs and classes for children from the ages of 8 to 18, as well as provides support and guidance to teenage girls who find themselves in a family way. Some of the activities available for the kids and teens include dance classes, arts and crafts, guitar classes, tutoring/homework help, movie nights, weight training, gymnastics classes, a bike course, and Friday night hang outs. And they don’t just stop there. “It’s really tough for these people; it’s heartbreaking,” says Dan Harris, the center’s executive director, “We are working to make a positive impact in their lives and help them in areas” where they need it most.
Some of the activities available for the kids and teens include dance classes, arts and crafts, guitar classes, tutoring/homework help, movie nights, weight training, gymnastics classes, a bike course, and Friday night hang outs.”
The Mommy Shoppe, a store for the young teen moms, opened up about seven years ago, and has expanded to include clothes, formula, cribs, toys, nursing covers, diapers, wipes, strollers, and more for new teen parents, including trips twice a month to the Riverside County Teen Parent School. New mothers earn “Mommy Bucks” by attending school, getting good grades, making doctor’s appointments, and spending time with their babies, and are allowed to use their earnings to buy anything they need from the Mommy Shoppe. In 2016, more than 35,000 diapers were given out to new mothers, and Mommy Shoppe Director, Becky Harris, encourages the community to get involved and support the almost 430 youths involved with both the Mommy Shoppe and the youth center.
My City Youth Center is looking to expand their facilities to include a daycare center for teen moms, an enclosed basketball court, a playground, batting cages, a skate park, credited occupational classes and much more.
A venture to help at-risk teens in the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley has become a starting point for the development of those youths for their betterment and for the betterment of their futures. The program first started as a way for youth to stay occupied and away from a life of crime.
“This isn’t enough,” Dan said about their previous purpose, “we’ve got to help them farther than that.”
And so, what began as an attempt to simply get kids off the street has grown into a life-changing opportunity for the kids and young mothers who are trying to better themselves for their present and future families.