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Teen Empowerment is planning a new youth center on Genesee Street

A rendering of the proposed new Center for Teen Empowerment on Genesee Street shows a two-story building with an outdoor terrace and expansive, second-floor balconies.
Photo provided
Teen Empowerment hopes to break ground in 2023 on a new center to be built on a pair of vacant lots on the west side of Genesee Street between Arnett Boulevard and Lenox Street.

Houses used to line either side of Genesee Street between Arnett and Lenox, with peaked roofs and fenced-in yards.

Now the houses on one side are mostly gone, replaced by a gaping weed-filled lot lined by wooden posts.

In that emptiness Doug Ackley sees promise.

Ackley is director of Rochester’s Center for Teen Empowerment, working out of a small rental property on the corner across the street. The nonprofit hires city kids as youth organizers to work in the neighborhoods where they live.

“They've watched everything be torn down,” he says of the vacant stretch. “And now they're going to be part of seeing something built up.”

Ackley hopes to break ground on a new building for the center next year – on a pair of those empty lots.

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Early plans show a two-story structure with balconies and an outdoor terrace. The building would be three times the size of the current location.

“It's about young people,” Ackley said. “But on a much broader scale, it's really about our community. We've never done a capital project. We've never built or … transformed, physically, the community this way. And I think we have a real opportunity to do that.”

The new building would would have meeting or activity rooms that also would be available to neighborhood groups. And a large multipurpose room that could hold up to 150 young people at an open mic night or to bring youths together for multi-site or even citywide projects.

Teen Empowerment’s goal is to have multiple neighborhood-based sites across the city. The group already has a satellite, east side location.

“We want to be able to unite young people across neighborhood lines in a much larger space,” he said. “That also speaks to the value of the work that young people are doing.”

But this is more than meeting rooms and offices.

There also would be a recording studio. That’s something Fremonta Strong advocated for. He spent his teenage years living around the corner on Lenox. Teen Empowerment gave him his first job at 14.

“A lot of our youth, we use songs, we use poetry and spoken word and things like that to convey positive messages or to convey messages of awareness and things of that nature,” he said.

Now 24, he is preparing for nursing school, and learning to sew and make clothes for clothing lines he has started. And he has stayed involved with Teen Empowerment, working with teens and on projects.

“Maybe five or six years ago, people probably looked at me like I was, you know, bad or misled or misguided or something like that,” he said. “But now, five years later, you know, I was able to actually get a chance to be exactly who I am – or who I aspire to be.”

There is a long way to go on the new center. But Ackley hopes the community will rise to the occasion, so there can be more stories like Strong’s.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.