With $2,000 and little else but motivation, Lynne Green set out to help underprivileged kids in Lawrence.
Never “in her wildest dreams” did she think that 15 years later, Van Go Inc., the program she created to help at-risk youths through art and job training, would affect so many people.
“We see kids change in this program ,and we hear from the parents and kids about how it helps their lives,” she said. “It gives me such a feeling of pride to see these kids come back. This place meant something.”
More than 100 people gathered Saturday night at Van Go, 715 New Jersey St., to celebrate the program’s 15th anniversary. The event served as a reunion for many of the program’s previous members — a chance to catch up with lost friends and relive memories of an organization that participants said was as much about family as it was job preparation.
“It feels so good to see all of the new faces and some of the people that still work here,” said Troy Rousello, who participated in the program in 2001 before eventually joining the military. “It’s expanded. There are so many more kids that are involved in having fun and keeping busy.”
The evening featured refreshments and a display of art from current Van Go members. Participants also had a chance to speak during an open mic session and create glass tiles for a public mural.
It was a night of celebration, but Green could remember when times weren’t so easy for the organization known for dotting Lawrence with hundreds of colorful benches.
“Money, that was the hardest part,” she said. “I still have community leaders come up and tell me how I told them what I was trying to do and how they kind of rolled their eyes.”
What Green was trying to do, and what she said she has created, was a way of giving youths confidence by letting them know they mattered.
“Art making is transformational and can help troubled teens express who they are,” she said. “The public nature of the art we do here gives the kids so much confidence and self esteem.”
Now it’s a little easier for Green to accomplish this task. Her budget has increased thirtyfold with the help of Lawrence businesses and the community. The program helps around 100 area youths a year and Green doesn’t plan on it going anywhere anytime soon.
Now we are grown up,” she said. “We are not subsisting anymore; we are sustaining.”