SPRINGFIELD – When you’re young, discovering and navigating to your passions can be an extensive and arduous journey. But for youth in Lane County, there is a new, dedicated space for hands-on experience, vocational learning, and plenty of room for exploration.
Spark at Booth-Kelly, Connected Lane County (CLC)’s second innovation hub, celebrated its ribbon cutting on Sept. 15.
Located at 303 S. 5th St., Suite 150, the 11,000-square-foot facility at the Booth-Kelly Makers District provides hands-on vocational learning and training to area youth. The intent is to intersect community, education, and business for the county’s young and underserved population.
“Connected Lane County … provides tools to youth and creates opportunities for the students. It’s just so exciting to have them here with the location in Springfield,” said John Garbett, who is on the Springfield Chamber board.
According to Heidi Larwick, CLC executive director, the new location is strategically located in the Booth-Kelly Makers District, as it is close to organizations that are working toward Springfield’s revitalization and economic growth.
Spark houses an industrial-sized Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, which is commonly used in manufacturing for machining metal and plastic parts. It also houses a dedicated indoor/outdoor welding area, and a manufacturing technology pathway – all supported by industry partners.
Its after-school work program, called the Agency, will continue to add programs at the facility.
The new location aslo houses a Youth Workforce Center where the organization’s other noted program called Elevate, provides services and workshops centered around ready-to-work needs.
“We are providing experiences so young people can connect math and science to a career or a pathway that they might want to follow,” Larwick said. “We show them how certain skills are used in an industry. We also give them an opportunity to practice it; that way, they can start to understand why they need to know a certain math or science concept, and they can also get excited and curious about what they want to do.”
Quentin Hawkins, agency member and senior at Sheldon High School, hopes to study engineering after high school. The program provides youth with paid work experience and opportunities to continue developing skills they’ve learned in previous CLC programs – like invention lab, which Quentin was part of two summers ago – in real-world industries.
“It’s just been a great opportunity for me. If it wasn’t for this place, I would not be where I am today,” Quentin said. “Starting in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and just getting the opportunity to come here and figure out what STEM really was gave me the opportunity to decide that I actually really love this and that I want to continue it.”
Larwick said CLC has seen great success at the Eugene location, and she is “thrilled” to be in Springfield now, too.
“We opened this facility because there was a really great need in Springfield, but also because there was a need in the eastern part of our county. We hope people will embrace this in the same way they embraced Eugene. I think of it as a community space for kids in Springfield and Thurston, but also in the outside areas, too,” Larwick said.