Rise Up Community Center aims to help youth lead youth

Rise Up Community Center aims to help youth lead youth
A free discussion on bullying in Carroll County Public Schools will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, June 18, at the new Rise Up Community Center, 280 E. Main St., Suite 100, in Westminster. (Ken Koons / Carroll County Times)

Youths and their parents are invited to a free discussion on bullying in Carroll County Public Schools at 6 p.m. Monday, June 18, in Westminster.

But there’s a special angle: It’s all about the kids.


“The parents will not be in the same room — they can watch and observe, but they can’t be in the same room,” said Angel Hill, one of the founders of the new Rise Up Community Center at 280 E. Main St., Suite 100.

“The kids will be there and it will be up to them how the discussion goes. We will talk about bullying and some of their insights into how to stop it, but it’s really giving the kids a chance to speak up and have a voice heard without adult involvement.”

That’s an approach that comes out of the philosophy of the Rise Up Community Center, which opened June 1 and will serve as a place where children ages 12 to 18, who are having trouble in one way or another, can get help.

“Maybe they are disengaged from their community, or they are just starting to hang out with the wrong crowd and getting into risky behaviors,” said Katie Kirby, the other founder of the new center. “We provide basic necessities, one-on-one mentoring, really anything a child struggles with, we will connect them with a service that can help or we will provide that service.”

That means helping food food insecure kids get food, certainly, but Kirby said that’s just setting the stage for the real work the center hopes to accomplish — empowering at risk teens to take accountability for their lives and reconnecting them with society.

“We’re going to focus on Community engagement — volunteering, community service, things like that — restorative practices, which is sort of what our method is, and then advancing youth development,” she said.

“We will be out volunteering. Our kids will be job shadowing at local businesses. We will be out at City Park playing basketball. We will really be using the services that exist in Carroll County and making sure kids who feel disengaged will re-engage with the community.”

And much of that work will involve teens in a circle, connecting with each other, but not just socializing, according to Kirby, much like how the conversation on bullying will work.

“We are going to get in a circle and we’re going talk about how how our actions and behaviors affect others,” she said, such as if there is a fight or disagreement among any two people at the center.

“But we will also use it just to build community here. So we will circle up and talk about lighter subjects,” Kirby said. “We will talk about, ‘What’s your favorite thing to do?’ and we’ll go around the circle and build those relationships by getting to know one another.”

That “restorative” methodology is Hill’s expertise, and her background in working with at risk youth is what led her to Kirby and the formation of Rise Up Community Center.

“I’ve been working with youth that would be considered at risk for most of my adult life,” Hill said. “After I got out of college, I went to work for Carroll County Public Schools. I was a special education instructional assistant, and I found myself working a lot with kids with behavioral issues. They needed a lot more one-on-one, more intensive assistance compared to the other students.”

Hill then worked with nonprofit Lead4Life, that operated evening reporting centers throughout Maryland, places where youth involved in the criminal justice system could be ordered to check in.

“I did that for awhile and I felt myself being pulled back to Westminster,” Hill said. “I really wanted to be able to do what we were doing everywhere else here in Westminster.”


So in 2017, Hill launched her own nonprofit consulting firm, Empowerment Inc. It was through Facebook that she met Kirby, who operates her own nonprofit working with youth, Together We Own It.

“We opened Rise Up as one mission, but we still operate our own nonprofit organizations,” Kirby said. “In partnership, we will run this program.”

Rise up Community Center is currently open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is open to referrals from anyone from concerned parents to teens themselves.

“They can walk in the door and say, ‘I need help with a resume,’ and then we will go through the intake process and see what other needs and risks their are and what they want,” Hill said. “Pretty much anyone and everyone who works with this population of youth, we want to make sure that if they see something going on in a kid’s life that they don’t ignore it.”

The ultimate goal is to make Rise Up an evening reporting center for youth referred by the Department of Juvenile Services, something regional Director Matt Fonseca is open to considering.

“I am going there by the end of June hopefully to check everything out and see what’s going on,” he said.

It’s when dealing with young people who may have already committed crimes that restorative practices can be especially helpful in turning things around, according to Hill.

“It is really about accountability as opposed to punishment. When a youth commits a crime, say they steal a candy bar out of a store, instead of focusing on that behavior, the fact that they stole something, we focus on the impact on the person they stole it from,” she said. “There’s person behind that store, someone owns that store. There is a human being that has been affected by their behavior.”

In that hypothetical scenario, the owner of the store would be invited in for a restorative conference, Hill said, meeting with the youth to communicate the human impact of their actions, rather than simply punishing the youth for those actions.

“There becomes this personal connection between the youth and the victim,” she said. “It’s no longer it’s just a 50 cent candy bar, now it’s, OK, someone is being affected and the next time I think about stealing, I have to think about someone’s feelings.”

Young people often don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, even when, perhaps especially when they are being punished for them, Hill said, and Rise Up’s approach will be to circumvent that response by bringing youth back into touch with the community in a personal way.

“Let us work with them. Let us help them to become accountable, so they can hold themselves accountable,” she said. “And with that comes empowerment: when you hold yourself accountable and say, ‘I am in control of my actions,’ that’s empowerment.”