With a group of young people, many of who had helped design the project, looking on, the McGaw YMCA broke ground Wednesday for its new MetaMedia center that aims to engage middle school students in creative activities.

Charles Lewis.

Funded by over $1.1 million in grants from the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation, the project is a collaboration among the Y, Youth Organizations Umbrella and Northwestern University.

Charles Lewis, a retired vice chairman for investment banking at Merrill Lynch & Co., said he was grateful to the staff at the Y and its partner organizations for their collaboration, which he said will be extraordinarliy helpful to Evanston.

Penny Bender Sebring.

His wife, Penny Bender Sebring, co-founder of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, said that the concept for the center was based on a research study completed at the university in 2012.

Students at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“Its thrilling to me that so many people want to take this idea and make it happen,” Sebring said, “And that lots of young people were involved in the planning process.”

The project will renovate what has been known as the Youth Lobby at the northeast corner of the first floor of the YMCA building at 1000 Grove St.

Peter Lewis.

Lewis and Sebring’s son Peter told the crowd that, living just a few blocks away, he’d grown up in the Y and that the family’s gift amounted to “deferred rental” for all the time he’d spent there.

While the space had gotten rather dingy, “this room means a lot ot me,” Peter Lewis said, adding that he looks forward to its transformation.

Monique Parsons.

Monique Parsons, the Y’s chief operating officer, praised the young people at the session for their participation in the planning process that started last spring.

“We couldn’t have done it without your energy and feedback,” Parson said, adding that by engaging the young people in creative activities she expected the program to “transform lives and change a community.”

A rendering of the MetaMedia center from a promotional video.

The new space is scheduled to open this winter.

Related story

Y gets $1 million grant for ‘metamedia’ youth center

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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