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Perham's Hub project nears completion: Here's an insider's look at the new Empowering Kids

The Hub, a new facility for Empowering Kids and the Perham Area Boys and Girls Club, is nearing completion. Both organizations moved into the building a couple weeks ago and are planning an open house for the public on Feb. 10.

A rendering of how the Hub's exterior will look
An artist's rendering of what the exterior of the new Hub building will look like once it's entirely complete. Finishing touches to the building were still being done as of late January, and landscaping will take place this spring and summer.
Contributed / Empowering Kids / Perham Focus

Editor's Note: This is the first part of a special two-part feature in light of the Hub opening in Perham. This week's Part 1 of the story takes a close look at the Empowering Kids portion of the facility; Part 2, coming up in next week's Focus, will look at the Perham Area Boys & Girls Club portion.

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After more than two years of planning and construction, the Hub project is nearly complete.

A joint facility for Empowering Kids and the Perham Area Boys and Girls Club , the Hub continues a tradition of education that has long defined its place on 5th Street S.E., where the old Perham High School was located for 100 years before the new school opened in 2018.

Both Empowering Kids and the Boys and Girls Club moved into the Hub a couple of weeks ago, and are getting settled into their new spaces. A public open house is planned for Thursday, Feb. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again from 6-7:30 p.m.

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Despite its lengthy history in the community, the significantly reconstructed former high school now boasts a brand new look just about everywhere.

On the Empowering Kids side of the building, which encompasses about 15,000 square feet, everything about the design and construction was detailed and intentional, according to Empowering Kids Director Tiffany Schroeer.

Empowering Kids is a nonprofit program that provides therapy, skill-building and other services to individuals with autism or other social challenges, their families, and the community. Due to the specific needs of their clients, Empowering Kids' leaders developed a clear vision for how their new space should look.

"We didn't want it to feel like a clinic, because sometimes individuals with disabilities spend so much time in hospitals," Schroeer said. "When you spend a lot of time there, that's the last place you want to go and spend even more time… We wanted it to feel comfortable. The entryway feels like a home."

Tiffany Schroeer, a young woman with long brown hair
Director of Empowering Kids, Tiffany Schroeer
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

The entryway to Empowering Kids features comfy chairs and a large fish tank that children can interact with. In the future, a coffee machine will be added to the space (for the grown-ups), along with textured wallpaper and cushions for people to touch and explore.

"It's not a space where parents need to worry about their kids smudging the glass," Schroeer said. "Touch it! Touch all of it! We designed it because we want you to touch it. We want you to be engaged."

On top of spaces that help keep kids stimulated, Empowering Kids also has isolation rooms for when a child may become overstimulated. These rooms have cushions to relax on, and sensory swings will be added in the next few weeks.

Because rocking and bouncing can create a sense of comfort, most of the furniture at Empowering Kids allows for movement. During their research, planners at Empowering Kids learned that clients of another, similar autism center liked the curved walls of that center's building, so they incorporated curved walls into the design of this one, too.

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The Hub's short-term waiting room
The waiting spaces in Empowering Kids were designed to feel homey and comfortable.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

"(This project) started out with 2,000 square feet, and we just kept growing," Schroeer said. "We have 15,000 square feet now."

As the project expanded, Empowering Kids was able to add more and more to the facility. Their art room features a kiln, and they have a computer lab with LED lighting, gaming chairs and computers. The lab is where several students are already participating in Esports. An arcade room features a fridge, microwave and chairs for lounging, and will soon have virtual reality sets, TVs and a Nintendo Switch. Private music rooms with a piano and drum set allow kids to hone their creative skills. A sensory gym, featuring trampolines and swings, gives them a place to work out their energy.

Another skill-building space, the employment lab, gives young adult clients an opportunity to try out five different areas of employment to determine the kinds of work they like and don't like. There's even a mock apartment, where they can practice domestic skills like making the bed and doing laundry.

A Montessori Inclusive Preschool will be a part of the space on the Empowering Kids side of the building, too; the preschool is planned to open in the fall of 2022.

Empowering Kids' employment lab
Empowering Kids' employment lab allows clients to try out five different areas of employment to see what they like and dislike.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Schroeer said construction met a number of delays due to COVID-related backlogs in the delivery of supplies, but added that most of those worries are in the past now, and clients have been loving the new space.

None of it would have been possible without the support, fundraising and donations from the Perham area community, she said.

"There's no other place like Empowering Kids in the state of Minnesota, and it's because the community is so generous," said Schroeer. "We're having an open house to show our gratefulness and the uniqueness (of the Hub) to the community."

Grants and donations from the community have so far covered over $2 million of the total $8.75 million cost for the Hub project. Another $6 million came from a State of Minnesota grant. Empowering Kids and the Boys and Girls Club are continuing to raise funds as part of the open house, which corresponds with Giving Hearts Day. About $700,000 in donations is still needed to reach their fundraising goal.

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The couch in the Hub's mock apartment living room
Empowering Kids has a mock apartment where young adult clients can practice life skills like doing laundry and making the bed.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

"We used to operate out of three rooms, and now we have 15,000 square feet," Schroeer reflected. "I'm just so happy and thankful and (think about) how lucky we are to be in this building to not only do what we love, but in a space that can really help (our clients) grow and explore in a place that they deserve."

Empowering Kids can be reached at 218-346-2322 or info@empoweringkidsperham.org. For more information, visit empoweringkidsperham.org .

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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