HENDERSON, Ky. – Dozens of Henderson community members this month welcomed to town The Port, a drop-in youth center that’s intended to welcome, entertain and assist youth and young adults age 16 to 25, including those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
The center will be managed by RiverValley Behavioral Health, which has operated in this region for decades.
“The Port is a safe harbor for the youth of Henderson,” RiverValley President and CEO Dr. Wanda Figueroa-Peralta told a crowd at an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Port, located in the former Gleaner building at 455 Klutey Park Plaza Drive, across from the Henderson County Family YMCA.
The Port will provide young people with access to computers, recreational activities, gaming systems, exercise equipment and laundry facilities, along with mental health counseling, job placement services, life skills training and peer support.
Laptop computers connected to WiFi will be available, along with a ping-pong table, foosball table, mini-basketball goals and a punching bag. A children’s playroom with toys is available for young people who want to bring their kids. Figueroa-Peralta said The Port will be staffed with “a multi-disciplinary team” that will include a therapist, educators, licensed counselor and employment specialist who “are clinically trained to be able to identify things” that could prevent a young person from transitioning to a successful life.
“We want for them to have a safe place and develop a relationship with our staff,” Figueroa-Peralta said.
“The whole point is to empower them to make good decisions and friendships and mentoring relationships,” she said. “Every child, every youth, every young adult needs an advocate,” she said.
All services will be provided free of charge.
The center will be open from 3 to 6 pm Monday through Friday, with extended hours offered during the summer and on school holidays.
“This is not a clinic,” Figueroa-Peralta emphasized. “People will not need a referral to come here. Everyone is welcome.”
But she said The Port intends to develop collaborations with school counselors, churches, businesses and other institutions who can make young people aware of its availability. And its staff can refer a young client to one of the RiverValley’s many accredited counseling programs here.
Ease of access is crucial, said Chip Stauffer, a former Henderson police chief who represents Henderson County on the RiverValley board of directors.
“Youth are often apprehensive about seeking assistance,” Stauffer said.
“This is absolutely the best time for this organization to be in our community for our youth,” Mayor Steve Austin said. “I think the deal (on the night of Aug. 25, in which two residents of Harbor House Christian Center for homeless men were shot and killed and two more were wounded, allegedly by another resident) tells us how important this is in our community,” Austin said. “We need more awareness of mental health.”
Henderson history:Spectacular fire destroyed First Presbyterian Church in 1972
The former Gleaner building that houses The Port has been substantially refreshed after being minimally used in recent years and completely vacant for two years. Wood paneling has been replaced with walls brightly painted white and sky blue.
“Bright and shiny vs. dull and not so great,” Austin, who spent more than 40 years at The Gleaner, including as publisher, described the interior.
“This was home to one of the finest newspapers in the country,” Henderson County Judge/Executive Brad Schneider said, drawing applause from dozens of Henderson residents who were on hand. It drew him to Henderson in 1988 to work as sports editor.
“For decades this was a place dedicated to helping the community,” Schneider said. “The Gleaner doesn’t really exist now in that form. But it does my heart good that this building, this place, will continue to be used to make the community better.”
“We cannot do enough for our youth” regardless of “the color of your skin or … the street you live on,” Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of the Henderson-Henderson County Human Rights Commission said,
Dr. Lionel Phelps, a RiverValley vice president who Figueroa-Peralta said was “the architect of this program’s design,” said young people “face many, many challenges” including educational attainment, body image, substance abuse or addictions, lack of affordable housing, negative stereotypes and pressure from peers and social media.
The Port, he said, can provide them “a safe, fun, therapeutic environment” as well as “everything they could need to have the best possible outcome.”
The Port is funded through a federal initiative called TAYLRD (Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams), which allows Kentucky youth to easily access high quality, developmentally appropriate, youth-driven support services. The Port in Henderson will be the 10th TAYLRD drop-n center to launch in Kentucky and, at 5,000 square feet, the largest.
“We know that all youth have the potential to thrive and succeed. We wanted to create a place for young people to hang out in a safe, supportive environment that will help them achieve their goals and empower them through their transition into adulthood,” Figueroa-Peralta said.
More information is available at www.ThePortHenderson.com.