Diesel Lounge on State Street opened its happy hour last Friday night to community members for a meet-and-greet with members of the Board of Directors and Advisory Council of the Escape Teen Drop-In Center.

The Escape Teen Drop-In Center, which will be located at 654 Orchard St. but does not currently have an opening date, will provide a safe hangout space for youths aged 13 to 24. The center will include a shelter for homeless youth and will hold workshops and run activities that promote youth health and educational skills. Emilie Steinnagel, the chair of the advisory council for the Escape Center, said the center aims to give a safe space to young people who might not be involved in structured activities, especially since youths are not always welcome in large groups in public.

“[The center will] get young people involved in things that are positive for their life and help them get where they want to be,” Steinnagel said.

She added that organizers also hope community members and organizations will come together at the center to provide opportunities for youths. No money was raised at the event, which served as a social gathering for prospective and current community partners, according to Steinnagel.

Diesel Lounge owner Martin Riggione said the meet-and-greet was the first event of its kind he has hosted in his six years at Diesel.

Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, a board member for the Escape and the former Ward 28 Alder, said using happy hour to raise awareness for the shelter makes sense.

“It’s a Friday after work. People like to have a cocktail. It’s a way to wind down and talk. It makes people comfortable,” Robinson-Thorpe said. “You can’t do that in a government building.”

Her sentiment was echoed by various community members and organizers who attended the event. Sharece Sellem, an outreach counsellor for the New Haven Jobs Corps Center, said the informal setting helped stimulate conversation at the event.

Good conversation is exactly what the board hoped to create, Robinson-Thorpe said. She said the mission of the meet-and-greet was to get people excited about the shelter and to show them that the board members and organizers of the Escape Center are still committed to the project, despite recent funding challenges.

The Escape has been struggling with budget issues in the past few months, according to Steinnagel, who said one of the biggest challenges with the project has been building renovations.

“Obviously renovating an older building is expensive,” she said. “And the building is very large so there is a lot of space that needs to be brought back up to [building] codes.”

Christopher Larose, who works for New Haven’s Youth Services department, said excitement is critical at a time when state budget cuts are interfering with the project’s completion.

Even as keeping adult enthusiasm high remains an issue, New Haven youth are excited about the project, Larose said. He added that Elm City teens have already been involved with the center by helping with building construction.

Robinson-Thorpe said that although the project does not have a completion date she is committed to seeing the center come to fruition.

“We don’t have anywhere for our kids to go right now. Our kids deserve this. They’re our future and we have to take care of them,” she said.

The Escape Teen Drop-in Center will be located at 654 Orchard St.

Clare Morneauclare.morneau@yale.edu