A new center in downtown Gloucester is focused on showing respect, dignity, and support to everyone who walks into its physical and virtual space. 

"We really try to keep at the forefront not only how to be an inclusive space, but for people to feel affirmed where they are at in their personal development," said Kate Wise, the wraparound director for the Justice Resource Institute's YOUnity program.

Located at 6 Elm St, the YOUnity drop-in center helps youth  — including male, female, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals — find their purpose through recreational and psychoeducational groups that promote self-empowerment. 

The purpose of the center, as Wise explained, is to create a low-barrier point of access for youth who would otherwise fall through the cracks of traditional mental health systems. 

As the only YOUnity drop-in center serving Cape Ann, it provides that access to youth between the ages of 16 and 25 through services such as nature walks, art workshops, cooking lessons, group yoga, interpersonal skill development, and job planning. 

"When you come to YOUnity, you are respected for who you are and for the person you want to be," JRI's website reads. "We are LGBTQ+ friendly and welcome any creed, religion, race, or personal reason for spending time with our drop-in community."

A Needham-based non-profit, JRI partners with government agencies across the Commonwealth to address, as its website puts it, "the most confounding problems of the rapidly changing justice and human services systems."

In addition to group programming, YOUnity offers one-on-one mentoring programs where young adults can craft their own personal narrative.

Wise noted that there will also be a case manager on site in Gloucester.

As the drop-in center is tailored toward connection, staff have pivoted their programming to include online options for those who would rather connect virtually. 

"We have had youths use that platform to problem solve COVID-19, interpersonal challenges, or other troubles," Wise said. 

The drop-in center is open  Wednesdays to Fridays from 1  to 7:30 p.m. As-needed case management meetings are reserved for Tuesdays.

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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