In 2003, several community meetings were held at McClymond’s High School and surrounding sites, where it was concluded that a teen center was needed for youth residing in an area plagued by violence, drug abuse, below average academic achievement, and other social detriments. The idea was presented at a City Council meeting on July 10, 2007, where West Oakland residents, community organizations, (including Attitudinal Healing Connection), the Community Assessment Planning and Evaluation unit of the Alameda County Public Health Department, and the City-County Neighborhood Initiative of the City of Oakland, advocated for the purchase of the former Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. The building, located at 3233 Market Street in the Hoover-Foster area of West Oakland, was purchased on October 26, 2007. In 2008, former District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel swiftly moved into action to assemble the West Oakland Teen Center (WOTC) Survey and Planning Project, managed by Leadership Excellence, a premier Black youth development organization in Oakland. Mrs. Liz Derias-Tyehimba, who serves as the current Director, led the first Project by recruiting a 12 member youth team, and advisory committee of residents and parents, and various partners
The goals of the Project were to: (1) to accurately assess the needs of youth in West Oakland, (2) to involve the community in all steps of the planning (particularly by creating an advisory committee that represented the diversity of West Oakland), and (3) to create workgroups that integrate youth and adult voices in the areas of programming, architectural design, organizational design and safety. Youth were the central decision makers at this time, creating and administering all parts of the participatory research strategy, developing informational material about the WOYC for the community, hosting several town hall forums, and working alongside Gerson-Overstreet Architects to design the floorplan for the WOYC. In September 2009, an Informational Report on the Proposed Design and Programming for the WOTC, which culminated the year long planning project conducted, was presented to Oakland City Council and the Economic and Community Development Agency.
The Project team ascertained that youth and young adults in West Oakland faced many challenges stemming from poverty, lack of jobs, educational opportunities, and access to resources and services. Poverty, unemployment rates and the teen pregnancy rates were, and continue to be higher for West Oakland than for the rest of the City and Alameda County. According to the 2000 census, approximately 33% of West Oakland's population was under 18 years of age. However, only approximately 19% of West Oakland students read at grade level. More than half the children in West Oakland were from families who receive assistance from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and nearly 80% of West Oakland middle school students were eligible for federally-subsidized free breakfast and lunch programs. Over 50% of West Oakland children lived with someone other than their biological parents. Public services and community resource are scarce in West Oakland, where there were more than 40 liquor stores, but no full service grocery stores. Surveys indicate that a majority of youth interviewed after violent incidents attribute lack of productive activities as the number one cause for violence. The West Oakland Youth Center is not only needed but is among the most important institutions in our city to equip youth with the necessary tools and skills to overcome social detriments.
The Project team also led the community advocacy to generate resources for the WOYC, working with City of Oakland representatives to secure nearly 8 million dollars for the construction of the Center, and advocating for the nearly 1 million from the West Oakland Project Area Committee for the construction of the library.
Throughout 2010-2013, the WOYC was renovated. An exterior tile mural was commissioned by the City of Oakland and painted by the Trust Your Struggle Collective (Cece Carpio, Rob Trujillo, Erin Yoshi and Miguel “Bounce” Perez) and Juana Alicia (students of the True Colors Mural Project (Berkeley City College also contributed). Also during this time, the West Oakland Health and Safety Collaborative (WOHSC) carried the torch of visioning and planning for the WOYC. The WOHSC is a partnership of organizations, as well as representatives from County and City government, that provide services and resources to children, youth, adults and families in a coordinated manner to better serve the West Oakland community. These services and resources are based in health and wellness, violence prevention and safety, the arts, food justice, sports and fitness, youth development and after school programming. Several members of the WOHSC continue to serve on the current Advisory Group.
In partnership with the Alameda County Public Health Department County under the leadership of the first director, Mr. Lincoln Casimere, the WOYC further developed its theoretical underpinnings in 2013. Following the WOYCs best practice to provide paid youth staff positions that also served as leadership development opportunities, the WOYCs youth staff team hosted events and activities, and met with the Strategic Advisory team of the WOYC to plan the implementation of programs and services. Throughout this time, the WOYC hosted more than 100 events and activities, and thousands have come through the doors of the WOYC, from children, to community members, to elected and appointed officials. The WOYC opened its doors on October 16, 2015, with a five member staff team, and a twelve member youth staff team.
We envision West Oakland as a thriving community with a proud history where people are informed, connected, engaged, and empowered to shape their future. The West Oakland Youth Center is a fun and safe place where youth and young adults learn together and become change agents for the community. Our mission is to provide a safe environment where young people are engaged and supported to explore and develop their talents and skills.