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Holton Youth & Family Center Is Now The STRONG Milwaukee Center, Shifts Focus To Mental Health

Courtesy of STRONG Milwaukee Center
Exterior of the newly re-named STRONG Milwaukee Center.

In 1989, the Holton Youth and Family Center (HYFC) was created by a group of community members. The goal was to help reduce crime and violence amongst the neighborhood’s youth by offering alternative resources to the gangs that had become prevalent in the neighborhood.

Through the decades, HYFC has been able to engage thousands of young people in positive programing in Miwaukee's Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods.

Mario Costantini, one of the founders, says throughout the years, HYFC has had to adapt its programming to fit the changing needs of the community.

“In the last year or two, especially during COVID, we started hearing about the greater needs for mental health treatment for kids,” he says.

That is why HYFC has partnered with several organizations including STRONG Child and Adolescent Day Treatment and Christian Family Solutions to turn the HYFC building on the corner of Burleigh and Holton into the STRONG Milwaukee Center.

Dr. Ashley Shoof is the clinical director for STRONG Child and Adolescent Day Treatment. She says bringing the program into the new building will allow STRONG to expand from serving around 20 kids, ages 5-14, to between 50 to 60.

“What we’re really trying to do is help kids express themselves in a way that’s healthy. That they’re able to say to an adult or trusted friend, ‘This is what I’m going through, help me with that’ rather than showing us with their behavior that they need help,” Shoof says.

Tamika Johnson brought her children to the STRONG program after they had experienced trauma surrounding gun violence and exposure to other violent crimes. She says the program helped her kids begin to heal.

“When we came to the STRONG program, it was a blessing for me and my family and found this foundation that is so supportive because now we need to start our healing process and we need a lot of support,” Johnson says. “They don’t give 50% support, it’s 100% support.”

The STRONG Milwaukee Center is also home to the J.K. Lee City Youth Martial Arts Program and Above the Clouds, both programs aimed at providing positive programming and addressing the issues of mental health facing Milwaukee’s youth.

From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.