By Kathleen McGinty         

An eruption of applause and an outburst of cheers resonated throughout the Collins Center on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2011.  After almost 17 years of advocating for the construction of a youth center in Andover, the Andover Youth Services (AYS) and the Andover Youth Foundation (AYF), along with the help of the Andover Youth Council (AYC), secured an agreement from the town to provide funding for the construction of the Cormier Youth Center.

“It was really exciting and a big relief!” said senior Jessica Lem, who has been involved in AYC, rock climbing, the Women’s Leadership Group, and the Tree Lot, all programs run by AYS.

Christina Pellegrino, also a senior who has been a part of AYS for seven years, was just as elated.

“We knew this year was going to be the year it would all happen,” she said.

With more than 6,000 youth participating in its programs every month and more than 300 programs held every year, AYS was in search of a location to build the coveted youth center several years ago.  In 2007, the site behind Doherty Middle School was approved for building the Cormier Youth Center, but AYS still lacked the funding.  AYS then turned to the town in hopes of rallying its support.

“Andover is a wonderful community with an incredibly talented and unique youth population,” said AYC member Sean McCall in the speech he gave on the night of the Special Town Meeting.  “Andover’s youth is what makes this town so special, but AYC believes that we as a town have begun to lose sight of that.”

With the help of the Andover Youth Foundation, AYS was able to raise $2 million on its own but still came up another $2 million short.  Yet at the Special Town Meeting held on Dec. 5 in the Collins Center, 1,442 Andover citizens voted in favor of having the town supply the missing $2 million, making this long sought after dream a reality.

“There is an incredible amount of pressure on the youth of this town to succeed both in and out of the classroom,” said McCall.  “With so much stress, the youth of this town needs a place where they can be themselves, where they can be a kid.”  Now that funding has been approved, children and teenagers throughout Andover can do just that.

AYS and AYF are currently working with the town to solidify planning details.  Although the start date of construction has yet to be determined, it is anticipated that the building process will take between five and eight months to be completed.  AYS director Bill Fahey could not be reached for comment.

As for now, the youth of the Andover community are excitedly anticipating the Cormier Youth Center.

“I’m excited that we’ll have a bigger space so that we can accommodate more kids,” said Lem.

Pellegrino expressed similar sentiments.

“I know that a lot of good things are going to happen with this youth center,” she said.  “[It will be] such a safe place for kids to hang out after school and have the opportunity to participate in various activities that are not offered through the schools.”

For more information about AYS, AYF, or the Cormier Youth Center, visit http://www.andoveryouthservices.com/.