Port’s new youth center intends to help teens and young adults thrive

HENDERSON, Ky. This month, dozens of Henderson community members welcomed the city to The Port, a youth center dedicated to welcoming, entertaining, and helping youth and young adults aged 16-25, including those with mental health or drug abuse issues.

The center will be managed by RiverValley Behavioral Health, which has been operating in this area for decades.

RiverValley President and CEO, Dr. Wanda Figueroa-Peralta, told a crowd at an open house and ribbon-cutting party 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 youth with access to computers, recreational activities, game systems, exercise equipment and laundry facilities, along with mental health counseling, employment services, life skills training and peer support.

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WiFi-connected laptops will be available, along with table tennis, table football, mini basketball goals and a boxing bag. There is a children’s playroom with games for young people who want to bring their children. Figueroa-Peralta said the port will be staffed with a “multidisciplinary team” that will include a therapist, educators, licensed counsellor and recruitment 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 them to have a safe place and to develop a relationship with our employees,” Figueroa-Peralta said.

“The whole point is to empower them to make good decisions, make friendships, and direct relationships. Every child, every young person, every young person needs a defender,” she said.

All services will be provided free of charge.

The center will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with extended hours offered during the summer and on school holidays.

“This is not a clinic,” Figueroa-Peralta emphasized. “People do not need a referral to come here. Everyone is welcome.”

But she said the port intends to develop cooperation with school advisors, churches, companies and other institutions that can educate young people about its availability. Its staff can refer a young client to one of the many RiverValley accredited counseling programs here.

Accessibility is critical, said Chip Stover, a former Henderson Police Chief representing Henderson County on the River Valley Board of Directors.

“Young people are often afraid to ask for help,” Stover said.

Mayor Steve Austin said, “This is the best time ever for this organization to be in our community for the sake of our young people. I think the deal (on the night of August 25, in which two residents of Harbor House Christian Center for the Homeless took part) “Two men were shot and two were injured,” Austin said. Two others, allegedly by another resident. “We need more mental health awareness.”

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The former Gleaner building that houses The Port has been significantly renovated after being used slightly in recent years and completely vacant for two years. The wood paneling has been replaced by walls painted in bright white and sky blue.

Austin, who has spent more than 40 years at The Gleaner, including the publisher, described the interior: “bright and glossy versus dull and not-so-great.”

“This was home to one of the finest newspapers in the country,” said Brad Schneider, Henderson County Judge/Executive, to the applause of dozens of Henderson residents who were present. He was drawn to Henderson in 1988 to work as a sports editor.

“For decades this has been a place dedicated to helping the community,” Schneider said. “The Gleaner doesn’t really exist right now in this form. But I am happy that this building, this place, can continue to be used for the betterment of society.”

“We can’t do enough for our young people” no matter what “your skin color or … the street you live on,” said Reverend Charles Johnson, executive director of the Henderson-Henderson County Human Rights Commission.

Dr. Lionel Phelps, Vice President of RiverValley who Figueroa-Peralta said was the “architect of designing this program,” said young people “face many, many challenges” including educational attainment, body image, substance abuse or addiction, a lack of affordable housing and stereotypes. Negativity and peer pressure and social media.

He said the port could provide them with “a safe and enjoyable therapeutic environment” as well as “everything they may need to get the best possible outcome”.

The port is funded through a federal initiative called TAYLRD (Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams), which gives Kentucky youth easy access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate, youth-led support services. The port in Henderson will be the 10th TAYLRD launch in Kentucky, and at 5,000 square feet, it will be the largest.

We know that all young people have the potential to thrive and succeed. We wanted to create a place for young people to hang out in a safe and supportive environment that helps them achieve their goals and empower them through their transition into adulthood.”

More information is available at www.ThePortHenderson.com.

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