Phoebe Gould

Toni Harp accepted a $7,500 check Tuesday afternoon earmarked for The Escape — a teen center in Dixwell set to open in March.

The new facility will provide New Haven’s 13- to 24-year-old youths with a variety of enrichment activities, educational resources and health services. The grant, given by Wells Fargo, will fund The Escape’s costs, which include $385,000 in construction and around $100,000 in yearly operating costs, New Haven Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett said. The 32,000-square-foot facility has been under construction for the past month in a property owned by the neighboring Bethel AME Church on Goffe Street.

“In the past, the city moved away from providing safe spaces from youth and that was a mistake,” Bartlett said. “On any given day, there are a lot of kids on the Green and on empty lots, just wandering around without access to productive experiences.”

The Escape will also house 15 beds for homeless youth, Bartlett said. The shelter spaces for teens will take a step toward helping the 420 youth without permanent homes in New Haven, Bartlett said.

Bartlett added that the city has already obtained all $385,000 necessary for renovations to The Escape’s future home. The City Youth Services Department has also set aside an additional $100,000 of its own funds to begin youth services. Bartlett said the department will continue to seek funds, as it did by applying for the Wells Fargo grant.

A local Wells Fargo employee will also join The Escape Teen Center’s board of directors, Wells Fargo District Manager Kimberly Chamberlain said. Employees at the bank will also volunteer at The Escape by teaching budgeting and saving lessons, she added.

The Escape in New Haven is a response to over six years of pressure from youth and community leaders to create a safe space for youth, Beaver Hills Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe said. She added that the coalition of support from the city and private donors, such as Wells Fargo, will help ensure the project’s success.

“It takes a village to raise our children and I think we’ve got all the important players on board,” Robinson-Thorpe said.

The city modeled The Escape in New Haven after The Door, a nonprofit in New York City that provides recreation, education and health services to youth, Bartlett said. The Door serves over 10,000 youth each year and has operated for over 43 years.

Teens at The Door easily discover resources they did not realize they needed because it places of all of its services under one roof, The Door Director of Communications Kristin Rubisch said. For example, students coming to the center for afternoon recreational activities have discovered that they can also obtain college application guidance or legal services, Rubisch said.

The Door has provided academic and employment services such as GED classes, college prep and job training to more than 1,500 young people in the past year. The Door also connected around 1,500 youth to counseling and provided crisis support to around 1,100 youth who ran away or were homeless; 7,000 also received general health services. 

“What we are really hoping for is to help young people seize opportunities and to become self-sustaining adults,” Rubisch said. “Even at 20 years old, youth face so many challenges in New York City with unemployment, not being able to finish schools and homelessness. So many obstacles prevent them from living sustainable lives as adults.”

New Haven is not the first to emulate The Door’s model. Two organizations — one in Stockholm and the other in Ottawa, Canada — sought The Door’s help in creating similar youth services facilities.