WATSONVILLE—For the past decade, Youth N.O.W. of Watsonville has aimed to provide students in the Pajaro Valley a safe, positive environment—long after the final school bell rings. 

The nonprofit was the brainchild of Dave Grazian, who retired after more than 30 years with Granite Construction and was looking for a way to make a positive impact on the lives of local youth. Students come to the center for everything from academic tutoring to recreational and social activities—all of it free of cost. 

Grazian started Youth N.O.W. in February 2010 at Bethel Tabernacle on East Lake Avenue, of which he was a longtime member. Now it has two locations: one for middle school students (15 Madison St.) and another for high schoolers (31 Carr St.).

Youth N.O.W. Executive Director Michele Chaney, who has been with the organization for about two years, explained the importance of these types of services for South Santa Cruz County and North Monterey County youth.

“We are trying to address the opportunity gap for youth in our community,” said Chaney. “To recognize the differences in what is available for students in different parts of the county, and to find ways to bridge that gap.”

Currently, Youth N.O.W. serves about 120 students from 14 schools. Volunteers and staff help with tutoring, giving students one-on-one help in specific subjects. They also provide resources such as computer labs and printing services. 

“We are able to give them individualized attention,” Chaney said. “That’s something you can’t always get in a large classroom with 30 kids.”

In addition to tutoring, Youth N.O.W.’s middle school site has an athletic gym, and its high school site has a community coffee house. Students participate in art and music activities, go on field trips and eat meals together. Every summer the organization holds a low-cost summer camp.

Chaney calls these “pro-social” activities, which focus on bringing out each of the students’ strength and creativity.

“They’re not just here for help with homework,” she said. “There is more to who they are, and what they are interested in.”

Youth N.O.W. works closely with other local organizations such as Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Community Action Board. In 2015, the organization also became a partner with United Way of Santa Cruz—who granted it $10,000 per year to support its tutoring programs. 

“We can’t do this without working together,” Chaney said. “Every volunteer that comes through our doors, every donor we work with helps to sustain us… we have to thank them.”

On Thursday evening Youth N.O.W held a special 10th anniversary celebration, in conjunction with the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture’s monthly Chamber Mixer. Food, raffles, music and a photo booth were offered to guests. The organization also held an ice cream social for students earlier that afternoon.

“I think to some of them, this place has become a true home away from home,” Chaney said.

For more visit youthnowcenter.org.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business and agriculture.