Students in the Lead From Within group meet with BYS executive director Cezanne Allen during a meeting Monday in BYS’s new facility across from the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center. (Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review)

Students in the Lead From Within group meet with BYS executive director Cezanne Allen during a meeting Monday in BYS’s new facility across from the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center. (Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review)

BYS celebrates move into new ‘forever’ home

There’s no place like home. Especially a place that feels like home.

That was the message from teens to Bainbridge Youth Services, and BYS heard it, loud and clear.

BYS is celebrating its move to its new home across from the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center, in the building once known as the “little red schoolhouse” that formerly housed the Bainbridge Island Child Care Centers’ Big Kids building.

The center sold the building to BYS earlier this spring for $1, and after an extensive renovation, the 2,100-square-foot building is now ready for its public unveiling. BYS is hosting an open house for the community from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 so people can tour the new building and get more details on the nonprofit’s programs that are focused on the social and emotional well-being of adolescents and young adults.

BYS was formerly located in the 100 Building on the Bainbridge High School campus, but had to move out as demolition of the structure could get underway. The nonprofit temporarily shifted operations to the Commodore Options School while renovation work at the former Big Kids building got started.

Gone is the iconic red paint from its “schoolhouse” days, and the building sports a sunny yellow look now.

Inside, the transformation is even brighter, with a design that was based on the input from the youth who rely on BYS.

BYS executive director Cezanne Allen said the remodeled space will allow BYS to expand its free programs for teens ages 12 to 21.

Youth wanted a layout that “would make them feel warm and welcome,” Allen recalled.

“So the design was completely changed based on their input. They talked about wanting it to feel more homey than a school or an institution, which is why we made this living room feel when you walk in,” she explained.

Next to the entryway, there’s a small hospitality nook where youth can help themselves to tea, water or snacks.

The central area of the facility has a space designed to be flexible in its use.

“All of those tables and chairs move away so that we can provide a variety of different programs throughout the day,” Allen said.

Another obvious sign of the youth input: beanbag chairs everywhere.

“We’ve really tried to make this as homey as possible,” she said.

The furnishings and wall colors are simple and zen-like. One side of the building hosts three private counseling rooms, with a larger room on one end that can be used for small groups, family counseling, and support groups.

“And also kind of a room if you need a place to just kind of chill and get to calm,” Allen noted, and it’s fitted with more beanbag chairs as well as a big comfy rocker.

“It is lovely,” she said of the renovations, which were completed by Clark Construction, and added that youth who have already visited wholeheartedly agree.

“It has a totally different feel when you walk in. I think the best thing is to watch the faces of students when they walk in and the comments that they make: ‘Wow. This is really nice; I love it here. It just makes me feel relaxed and welcome.’

“And that’s exactly what we went for,” she said.

The remodeling effort stretched for two months, and was financed primarily through individuals, private donors and foundations, and other entities that support youth, such as the Rotary Club.

While the land is owned by the Bainbridge Island School District, BYS has secured a 25-year lease.

“We’re planning on staying. This is our permanent home,” Allen said.

BYS offers free counseling and tutoring, as well as youth work opportunities through its job board and summer internship program with local businesses and organizations.

In its tutoring program, students work as peer tutors to assist fellow students in grades one through 12.

Last year, 47 students volunteered as peer tutors and 132 students received free tutoring. More than 660 total hours of tutoring were offered.

“I wish other people could be a mouse in the wall to hear the conversations and the connection between these high school students and especially younger peers and the younger students that they tutor,” Allen said. “It’s incredible how much of an impact it has had on both parties; and it is as good for the tutor — to see the power they have.”

BYS also offers the Teen Tech Tutoring program, where teens meet with senior citizens at the senior center to help them with their tech gadgets and devices. Last year, they hosted 879 tutoring sessions.

Like its tutoring and jobs programs, counseling services provided by BYS have also seen an upward trend.

A total of 233 youth and parents received assistance in 2018, and roughly 1,700 counseling sessions were provided.

Programs are offered before school, during the school day during lunchtime, and after school.

BYS has a dynamic team of counselors, Allen said, but noted that kids don’t have to be in crisis to seek help.

“There are so many forces, so many cultural forces, that have contributed to having anxiety, depression and this feeling, this sense of being overwhelmed,” she explained.

“If we can help support kids early in the process and not wait until they are in crisis, that is in the best interest of everyone — but particularly our young people. We want to get the word out: You don’t have to be in crisis to seek support,” she said.

BYS’ strategic plan focuses on hope.

“Our goal is … by 2025 that all youth score ‘highly hopeful’ on the Healthy Youth Survey. For that to happen, we need to emphasize support, skill building and things that build an inner sense of strength,” she said.

During the last survey, Bainbridge youth scored better than the statewide average. A total of 67 percent of Bainbridge 12th-graders said they were “highly hopeful” and 25 percent said they were “moderately hopeful.” (The statewide average was 51 percent.)

“We want to see this larger. Because we know that studies show that when kids are highly hopeful, there is an inverse relationship with the things we don’t want to see; with suicidality, substance abuse, all of that,” Allen said.

The flexible space will give BYS opportunities to offer more in the future.

“We are working to have more counselors, multiple days a week, so that there’s more flexibility for students when they come to schedule an appointment so it’s not hard to get in with their person that they have developed a relationship with,” Allen said.

Counseling services are free and confidential.

“There is no limit to the number of times a student can be seen. But the student drives the whole process,” Allen stressed.

“They come in with what they want to seek help with, and we will stay with them until they’ve met their own goals.”

The BYS office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Teens can come in before or after school for refreshments and snacks and can drop in any time before 5 p.m. to work on homework or just relax.

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