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FIRE HALL IN AMHERST WILL BE TRANSFORMED INTO YOUTH CENTER

Over coffee and eggs, the Amherst Youth Foundation raised more money Thursday in its quest to establish a permanent home.

The breakfast was part of an ongoing campaign for the fund-raising arm of the Amherst Youth Bureau, which was to begin work today on transforming the former Hutchinson Hose Fire Hall at 5005 Sheridan Drive, where the breakfast was held, into the Williamsville Youth & Family Center.

If construction proceeds on schedule, the converted facility will open in September with a teen-run coffeehouse.

It also will become the new home of myriad programs run by the Youth Foundation, the Youth Board and their partners.

"It's for our children," said Keith Parwalski, president of the Williamsville Business Association, who is helping to tap funds from other area businesses to pay for the renovation.

"I think some people think it's Amherst and we don't have issues, but we have the same issues as other communities have," Parwalski added.

Purchasing the fire hall and the renovations are expected to cost $2 million.

"We'll be able to do a lot of different kinds of programs with this new space," said David Hess, president of the Amherst Youth Foundation. "We can even add to the programs we have."

They include one sponsored by the town's garden clubs that will take over small plots at the rear of the property to teach young people gardening techniques.

The teen coffeehouse in the center will involve a partnership with Starbucks Coffee Co.

Jennifer Sherman, a 17-year-old senior at Williamsville South High School and a Youth Board member, explained that Starbucks will donate the equipment and furniture for the coffeehouse and train the teens to run the business, as well as design the decor.

Mary-Diana Pouli, senior program coordinator for the Youth Board, said the agency also will transfer its after-school programs from rented space in Gateway-Longview on Main Street in Amherst to the new facility.

"We'll be able to serve up to 100 kids, which is almost double what we do now," Pouli said. "We're hoping for a full option of programs for teenagers on evenings and weekends."

In addition, the Youth Foundation plans to sponsor a program for special-needs adults 21 to 31 years old.

Parents Eileen Torre and Holly Levy noted that Amherst State Park is directly behind the property, providing even more collaborative opportunities, as well as an additional draw for youths.

The new center, Torre said, will provide "a sense of security in that we will know where our children are."

"For parents, it's a partner helping us to raise our children," Levy added.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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