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RYSE Commons: building on dreams of Richmond youth

on September 24, 2019

September 2019 marks a new beginning for the RYSE Center. One of Richmond’s most prominent youth organizations, the center recently broke ground on construction for its new, 37,000 square foot building, known as RYSE Commons.

Construction underway for RYSE Commons. The site is expected to open in early 2021.

RYSE first opened in 2008. Conceived as a sanctuary from urban violence, it is a place where youth can work, seek therapy, hold discussions, learn new skills, and create art in a safe space. Now, 11 years later, RYSE Commons is a product of ideas curated by the very youth it serves.  

“Two hundred young people participated in the design of RYSE Commons,” says Kimberly Aceves-Iñiguez, executive director and co-founder of RYSE. “Staff and young people really said, if you think about what RYSE has been in the community for ten years, what could what could RYSE Commons be? What could it look like? What could it feel like?”

Among several new amenities, RYSE Commons will include a basketball court, art studio, performance theater, a garden to grow food, and business pop-up opportunities made by youth. The digital layouts also depict several large windows and outdoor space. “There was this fear [that] if it’s too big, maybe we won’t have that [sense of family and accessibility] so . . . the design was really developed to be kind of circular and flowing and open . . . no closed doors, so young people kind of felt they were in it with us,” says Aceves-Iñiguez. RYSE Commons is expected to open in 2021.

Aerial view of future RYSE Commons building. Credit: RYSE

Walking into the current RYSE building, a large mural greets people as they enter. Inspirational messages from famous figures, and paintings made by young artists, line the walls. Couches are set up in the lobby where members can watch TV, play video games, or talk. Programs are free, and young people, many of which are people of color, typically come after school. Serving an average of 200 youth each month, RYSE’s current 6,600 square foot space was in need of an expansion.

“Over the last ten years . . . we talked to young people. We listened to young people, we’ve done listening campaigns, we evaluate young people,” says Aceves-Iñiguez while giving a tour of the current building. “Overwhelmingly, every year, same thing: ‘We need more space, we need somewhere bigger, it needs to be more programs, RYSE feels like a second home and RYSE feels like my home,’ and so we just knew it was time.”

Aside from donors and partnerships, RYSE secured an $11 million loan from the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTCP) to fund the new facility. The NMTCP program helps low-income communities by attracting private investors through use of tax credits.

RYSE estimates that it will have a 300 percent increase in its programming upon the expansion of the new facility. The center currently serves youth ages 13 to 21, but RYSE Commons will expand the age range of participants to 11 to 24.  “We’re trying to expand so younger members can actually come, and it’s a lot easier on parents to be able to drop off both of their children or multiple children,” says CiCi Gordon, the Media, Arts, & Culture Program Coordinator at RYSE. “The reason why the age is going up is because we have a ton of young adults who are like, ‘We still need these services,’ and . . . they age out after 21, but they’re still engaged in a ton of projects and collaborations . . . so it’s really to be able to reach folks and give them the opportunities that they’ve started off with.”

Kylaa Prejean, a RYSE youth member.

Kylaa Prejean, a RYSE member and current high school senior, is also excited for the new building. “I know that the dance room is going to be amazing because that’s my sanctuary here. I just can’t wait,” she says. “I feel like it’s going to be cozier and fun.” Prejean will be attending The Juilliard School in New York after graduating. She credits RYSE for playing a big part in her passion for dancing. “RYSE helped me take it seriously,” she says. She hopes to return to RYSE Commons in the future as a mentor or counselor.

“I think we want to see in the next 10 years for the ownership and full leadership of [RYSE] go to young people in our membership,” says Aceves-Iñiguez. “That’s the goal.”

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