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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

New P.E.A.C.E and H.O.P.E Center for Youth offers safe space for Columbia teens

Words on a white, cinder block wall. "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you."
Rebecca Smith
Co-founders Lonnie Lockhart Bey and Julian Jackman see opening the new P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth in downtown Columbia as an extension of the work they are already doing. They hope by offering a safe, physical location they can help students find consistency. "So, you're gonna see us in the school with you, you're gonna see us in your community with you, and you're gonna see us in the center with you," Jackman said.

The new P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth in downtown Columbia is buzzing with activity as you walk through the doors. The entry room is a wide, bright space filled with bookcases, individual computer workstations and inspirational messages on the walls.

The space is designed to be welcoming with an emphasis on community. At the front of the room is a wall-mounted TV with a large, half circle couch that could easily fit eight teenagers in front of it.

“We're offering an environment for children to engage in an active learning program,” Fuguana Haggard said. She’s the new program director for the center. “Our focus is on empowering youth to take control of their life and build a foundation for a positive future.”

Haggard has been working at the Center for about a month, and said she jumped on the opportunity because of her own past.

Fuguana Haggard (left) speaks with a community member at the soft opening of the new P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth. She is wearing a t-shirt under a black denim jacket and dark jeans.
Rebecca Smith
Fuguana Haggard is the Program Director for the new center. She said she personally knows how much of an impact a caring adult in a secure environment can have on a kid – because she was one of them. "I've had a rough life, but the person that I am today is not who I was. Everything that was instilled into me, as a kiddo, helped shaped me into who I am today."

“I experienced childhood trauma,” Haggard said. “[I] got bullied, picked on in school, and then went to an alternative school. Mr. Jarrett in Pulaski County, God rest his soul, saw me for who I was when I couldn't see me. So, I went from a 2.1 GPA to a 3.67. He created a safe place, a safe environment for me to learn and for me to be me.”

Haggard said the center will work with teenage kids – giving them a quiet, safe space to focus on schoolwork, as well as access to volunteer tutors. But it will also go beyond academics and focus on enrichment and opportunity, like a workforce development program where kids can learn graphic design and print their own t-shirts, tumblers and mugs.

“That is something that you can learn here and take that and make that into a business,” Haggard said. “We have some of our children that are already parents – ‘You can use this, we can help you create an LLC, and you can use this to raise your child.’ So, those are the types of things that we're going to be doing here.”

Walking further into the center – there are various rooms focusing on different activities. A main community room is with couches, as well as ping pong and foosball tables. Off to the side is the print shop, a gaming room with large gaming chairs and multiple consoles, and a TikTok room where kids can make their own videos in a safe, aesthetic space.

The center was created by Lonnie Lockhart Bey and Julian Jackman, both of whom run nonprofits that focus on helping kids and the community. Lockhart Bey is the Executive Director of Destiny of H.O.P.E. (Helping Our People Excel) and Julian Jackman is the Executive Director of P.E.A.C.E. - People Embracing Another Choice Effectively.

“The whole point of a lot of this stuff back here is to incentivize, to make sure that you're doing the things that you need to be doing,” Jackman said. “[So,] when you play, you're not going to be all stressed out about other things in life.”

For both Lockhart Bey and Jackman, the Center is a nearly 20-year dream coming to fruition – both of them were incarcerated at a young age and spent many years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Lonnie Lockhart Bey (left) and Julian Jackman (right) sit side-by-side at a computer workstation. They are both wearing long-sleeve, button-down shirts and baseball caps with the logos of their nonprofits.
Rebecca Smith
Co-founders Lonnie Lockhart Bey (left) and Julian Jackman (right) opened the center so that teenagers in Columbia can find support and meet trusted adults who are invested in their future. "Once you become a motivator, then you can help them try," Lockhart Bey said. "Some children are not motivated based off the conditions of their environment to do anything. If you lived in some of those conditions, you certainly wouldn't be motivated."

They agree that a center like this – filled with adults who are invested in their success – would have likely helped them avoid incarceration in the first place.

“For us, the streets became our foundation. That's what we believed in. That's what we thought was the truth. That's what we thought was right. We thought that was our friends. We thought that was family,” Jackman said. “And it's not. It's places like this that I need[ed] to show me what family was, love, caring and understanding and being compassionate and having empathy. I needed somewhere like this.”

And the new center is an extension of work they’re already doing. Through a nonprofit the two run together called R.I.S.E. (Responsible, Intelligent Scholars Excelling) Initiative, they have a contract with Columbia Public Schools where they work inside the schools with “at risk” youth.

They also spend time walking around different neighborhoods in Columbia – building relationships with kids, who they say, remind them a lot of themselves.

This “one-two punch” of connection fosters trust, and Lockhart Bey said it helps these kids see there are adults who actually care about their wellbeing and can mentor them.

And it’s this mentorship element that attracted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri.

Krisitie Douglas (left) and Ann Merrifield (right) both work for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri. Douglas (left) has curly shoulder length brown hair. She has on a Big Brothers Big Sisters t-shirt and a bright green puffer vest. Merrifield (right) wears glasses and has short gray hair. She wears a pullover quarter zip jacket with the Big Brothers Big Sisters logo on the chest.
Rebecca Smith
Krisitie Douglas (left) and Ann Merrifield (right) both work for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri. Merrifield said she's excited about the future of the center. "This is a place where kids can come and they can hang out with peers and they can forget cliques and boundaries and they can just be together. They can come and be with adults that care about them, that want to help them with their education."

Ann Merrifield, the executive director, said they’re launching a pilot “site-based group mentoring program” at the P.E.A.C.E. and Hope Center for Youth. The program is being funded through American Rescue Plan, or ARPA, from the city.

She explained that a typical Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship is one-on-one – you have one big brother with one little brother, one big sister with one little sister – and they spend time together every month.

But there’s still a lot of kids in Mid-Missouri that could benefit from mentoring and developing strong relationships. Merrifield said they currently serve about 125 kids in the area with 60 more on the waiting list – many of whom come from single family households and nearly all of whom are on free or reduced-price lunch.

The new program will partner one big with four littles

“We're gonna be able to serve more kids, right?” Merrifield said. “So, this seems to be the perfect site to do this.”

Merrifield said the program, as well as the center, will be staffed mostly by volunteers, and added that the program’s successes hinges on that community investment and involvement.

“I think it's really important that this community remembers the importance of volunteering, the importance of giving back because, you know, the kids are our future,” Merrifield said. “As adults, we've got to be there to help our kids grow up, so that they can continue to have this community thrive.”

 Co-founder Julian Jackman stands in the TikTok room at the P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth in downtown Columbia. The walls and windows are covered in cloud-like material.
Rebecca Smith
Co-founder Julian Jackman stands in the TikTok room at the P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth in downtown Columbia. He said he and partner Lonnie Lockhart Bey wanted to create an environment of support, as well as fun – so they included incentives that would interest students, like gaming systems and a space to make TikTok videos.

Lockhart Bey and Jackman said every student at the center will go through an application and interview process so they are aware of each child’s needs and how they can best help them succeed.

Jackman added they’re aiming to give kids a sense of stability – even if they’re struggling at school.

“We want to make sure that when those things happen that there is no excuses,” Jackman said. “There is someone to pick up those pieces and say, ‘Hey, we got you. Come on, you got somewhere to go where there's gonna be interactive learning, you can get tutored, you can get what you need’.”

The center is hoping to work with 50 or so students to start, and student applications are available now at peaceandhopecenterforyouth.com.

At the end of the day, everyone involved agrees they want to give kids in Columbia kids a community space that is safe and consistent, and ultimately a space to grow.

For Fuguana Haggard, it goes one step further: “We want the kids to be able to trust us, and then for them to get the help here and then one day turn around and give back what we give them.”

The new P.E.A.C.E. and H.O.P.E. Center for Youth opens its doors to students on February 1, 2024. It will operate Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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