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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – The Friendship Club and NEO (New Events and Opportunities) have announced their merger expected to be completed by the end of August, a step that will enhance their capacity to meet the ever-increasing needs of youth in Nevada County.

Youth performers on the NEO stage during the 2019 Nevada County Fair. NEO has merged with The Friendship Club, which also provides after-school programs for young people. The organizations along with SAFE, a program for youth experiencing homelessness, will be known as Bright Future for Youth.

“The merged organizations have similar efforts and goals, and we can help ensure stronger and more expansive support for youth during this important time in their lives,” said Jennifer Litton Singer, Executive Director of The Friendship Club. The organization started as a pilot program with 15 girls in 1995 and now serves more than 125 youth a year.

Helping youth transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency is a far-reaching goal of both The Friendship Club and NEO. Young men and women are provided academic, emotional and social support, life-skills training, career education and access to counseling and health care. In 2019, The Friendship Club expanded to help 16- to 24-years-olds experiencing homelessness through its SAFE program (Stability, Access, Foundation, Empowerment).

“The Friendship Club and NEO have extensive experience working with youth, their families and the community,” Litton Singer said. “Joining together is part of a focused effort to ensure young people have hope, opportunity and the capacity to succeed.”

Youth are facing more challenges in this modern world. By coming together, the organizations will be stronger and able to serve more youth in better ways. The Friendship Club and NEO will meet the needs of several hundred youth every year. Youth in the community can use one or a combination of the programs, receiving services in numerous ways.

NEO was co-founded by Halli Ellis-Edwards and Lynn Skrukrud in 2008. NEO has evolved to embrace a holistic approach to wellness, addressing the root causes of substance abuse and mental health issues through events and its Youth Center.

NEO is moving the Youth Center to a new location with plans to reopen when services can safely be offered again. In the meantime, NEO is providing virtual programming and pop-up summer camp events. The Friendship Club is also providing fun summer activities to youth. Both organizations are implementing all required practices to maintain social distancing and safety protocols.

“We’re extremely grateful for what we’ve accomplished and how we helped fill a great need in the community,” said Ellis-Edwards, who along with Skrukrud, was 19 when they founded NEO. “Combining the organizations will allow more youth and young adults opportunities to access a safe, fun and supportive environment while getting services they need to thrive,” said Skrukrud.

The merged organization will be known as Bright Futures for Youth to better describe its expanded mission and vision for youth in Nevada County.

The organization will be comprised of three aligned programs: The Friendship Club, NEO and SAFE. The new, multilayered organization will provide comprehensive services to meet the many, and sometimes very specific, needs of youth in the area. The name change is pending approval from the California Secretary of State.

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The Friendship Club and NEO boards of directors unanimously approved the merger. All Friendship Club and NEO board members will join the new Bright Futures for Youth Board of Directors. Singer will serve as Executive Director and Ellis-Edwards and Skrukrud will continue with the organization.

“The merger is about bringing together our committed, mission-focused organizations and making them stronger,” said Machen MacDonald, Board President of The Friendship Club. “We will leverage our resources to provide a continuum of services so young people get the help and resources they deserve.”

NEO Board President Marty Lombardi, who also serves on The Friendship Club Board, commented that the addition of NEO coupled with The Friendship Club and SAFE will provide a “one-stop shop” for youth services.

“It takes kind and caring hearts moving in the same direction to make a community thrive,” Lombardi said. “The Friendship Club and NEO have a never-ending commitment to ensure that our children and young adults get the assistance they need.”

The Friendship Club, celebrating its 25th Anniversary this month (July), has helped empower and educate more than 1,000 girls and young women in sixth through 12th grades who face many life challenges. Although much has changed since Mary Collier founded the organization in 1995, the goal of connecting girls with each other, mentors and role models, and putting them on a path to success, remains constant.

NEO strives to empower youth to make healthy and positive lifestyle choices. Founded in 2008, NEO serves youth ages 11- to 25-years-old through its Youth Center, community events, school outreach programs and summer camps. Since opening the center in 2015, NEO has provided free after-school drop-in hours for more than 1,000 youth.