COHOES – The Rev. Wendell Williams’ plans for the Connect Center for Youth that grew out of his Good Ground Family Church were realized five years after his death under the guidance of his son Ben Williams.
“It’s been a hard transition. It became better when Ben came on and helped,” the Rev. Dona Williams, the church’s pastor, said.
The official opening of the Connect Center’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Lab on Wednesday is only the first step in providing opportunities to the community, said Ben Williams, executive director of the Connect Center.
The lab includes a black box theater and a music studio, and the space is now doubling as a home for the Connect Classroom, a socially distanced education space for students who lack access to sufficient technology at home. A professional kitchen and co-working space are also in the offing, the latter of which is intended to become an incubator for jobs but more importantly help the city’s students find their way into professions that may draw on the tech experiences the center will provide, Williams said.
Williams was able to surmount financial challenges caused by renovating portions of the former St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church at 49 Johnston Ave. by concentrating on space that was approved by the city and raising $25,000 to get the center’s new Connect STEAM Lab open to serve 30 to 40 students in the classroom daily. In total, the project encompasses 5,000 square feet of space in the 130-year-old cathedral, according to the center's website, and so far has cost $700,000.
“Our vision is for the Connect Center to serve as a community hub for connection, empowerment and innovation, with a mission to break the cycle of poverty by connecting youth to their full potential. We have reached this important milestone today because of the growing number of people and organizations who understand the need, share our vision and are committed to make it a reality,” Williams said in a statement.
A former chef, Williams is planning a cooking fundraiser to keep the momentum going.
The Connect Center has received financial support from the Golub Foundation, Stewarts Shops, the Uniform Fire Fighters of Cohoes IAFF Local 2562, and the Seymour Fox Foundation plus volunteers from JM Precision, PPG Paints, and Grace in Action Fellowship.
The Connect Center is located at 49 Johnston Ave. in Cohoes. For more information, visit the group's website at connectcenterforyouth.org.