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Mary Nelson Youth Resource Center Reopens With New Features, Same Mission

TheMary Nelson Youth Resource Center on Syracuse’s South Side is opening its doors again after months of renovations. Aside from hold a backpack giveaway each school year, the center also helps people find jobs and hosts after school youth programs. The upgrades and expansions will help the center build on the existing program and better serve the Syracuse community.

Mary Nelson herself excitedly showed members of the community the new additions and renovations to the center at an open house event at the end of November. There’s an upgraded kitchen, new furniture and carpet, a fully equipped classroom space with computers and a smart board, and a barbershop.

“I got all his chairs. I got him a sink. Everything to wash and do facials,” said Mary Nelson.

“He’s an artist,” she said, referring to her son who is a barber. “Somebody got to take over the reins. You got to be out here with mom, but also [I said] ‘I want you to do one thing for me.’ He said, ‘What is that mom?’ ‘You a good barber. So, I’d like you to cut all my boys hair free.’”

Otis Jennings is the Project Manager for the renovation. He said having the barber shop in the front of the center is a great addition.

“You know, a barber shop is a gathering place in the Black community,” said Jennings. “So, to have that space up front where kids can integrate and gleam wisdom from some of the older gentlemen, who might be sitting there waiting for a haircut or what have you, is just awesome.”

Katie Zilcosky

The center has spent the last few months closed for upgrades after receiving a Lowe’s 100 Hometowns Project grant and matching funding from theJim and Juli Boeheim Foundation. Jennings points out the space is the farthest south community center in the City of Syracuse.

“We can give them a little bit of the Taj Mahal [on the] South Side of the city, and they have a very safe place that they can come to for education, for recreation, for food, and many other needs that meet the human condition.”

That includes family court visits. Mary Nelson says families and parents are calling, wondering when they can return to the center.

“But I told them, just give me another two more weeks. You’ll start coming back on Saturdays and stuff,” said Nelson. “I let them cook, make breakfast for them or lunch. They go in the kitchen and cook and sit down as a family and eat. They play games back here. They do everything.”

The center offered a wide range of programming before the renovation, including hosting family court visits, but also after school tutoring and art classes, job search help, and a food pantry. Nelson discussed with those who shared the space with her on the day of the reopening the center as a place for all people in the community.

Katie Zilcosky
WAER news

“I want everybody to be a part of this center,” said Nelson. “I want to work with other agencies. Like we need to work together. We need to work together. You know, stop this ‘I do this.’ and ‘I do this.’ and ‘This is my thing.’”

“No. If we’re losing our kids in the street, we’re all going to the same funeral,” said Nelson. “And I’m hugging you. You’re hugging me. You know what I’m saying. We all done lost something. So, when this happens, it’s a community problem. So, stop saying that’s my child because my child your child is my child.”

Above all, Nelson wants her center to be a safe, comfortable space where Syracuse residents can spend time together and get what they need.

“I see so much finna happen here. In the next two months, that room’s going to be full over there. We’re going to have the kids running back through there. They can’t wait to come. I want them here before Christmas break, because they’re going to need somewhere to go for those two weeks. You know what I’m saying, I want them here.”

The renovations on the center are just about complete. They’re still waiting on a smart board to arrive, a new sign for out front, and a few other odds and ends. Nelson said she looks forward to how beautiful it will be when the remodeling is finished, but her work won’t be done. She’ll keep creating and expanding and adding to the center to provide the best space possible for the community.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.