Kids at the Holton Youth Center met up in 2006 with Velo Trocadero, Alterra Mountain Bike Team, and Mario Costantini to learn how to fix bikes.

“The YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee has made a difficult decision to close the Holton Youth Center.  We do not have a definite date set for the closing, but know that it will come in early 2008. We had originally set a date for April 1, 2008, but will remain flexible in the hopes that we can find another organization that can take over the building and continue to serve the youth of the neighborhood.” 

The first paragraph of the Feb. 23 press release from the YMCA outlines the present situation. But there is a long and complex relationship between Holton Youth Center and Riverwest that predates the YMCA’s involvement.

Mario Costantini, CEO of La Lune Collection on Burleigh and Weil in Riverwest, and long-time board member of Holton Street, is appreciative of the Y. “The YMCA has been a great partner since 1994, and I am very grateful for all of their efforts and for their support during these last 14 years,” he said.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “this partnership has come to an end, and the board of directors of the Holton Youth Center must now decide how we will move forward.  It is the intention of our board to find another partner or to run the center as an independent youth center as we had done from 1989 to 1994, if possible.”

This task may prove daunting, given the price tag of running an operation like Holton. The current figure is $500,000 per year.

Costantini likes to tell a story from the early days of the Center. The police chief at that time pointed out that the cost to the city for a single shooting, “…not even a fatal shooting, just a run-of-the-mill wounding that happens all the time,” was about $500,000. “So if we prevent one shooting per year with this Center,” the chief said, “we break even. If we prevent two, we double our money.”

Still a strong supporter of the Holton Center, Costantini isn’t about to give up any time soon. “Since we opened our doors in 1989, the Holton Youth Center has helped thousands of kids to stay in school, to stay away from drugs and gangs, and to grow up to be good citizens.  For almost 20 years, kids came to our center every day to be safe from the dangers in the streets and to participate in our many education and recreation programs.

“They came to ask for our help when they had problems, to be fed when they were hungry, and just to be a kid and have a little fun.  It will be a great detriment to the kids, to the neighborhood, and to the city if we are not able to keep our doors open.”

Riverwest is a neighborhood with a reputation for a do-it-yourself attitude. Anyone who wants to help support the transition of the Holton Youth Center can call Mario Costantini at 414-263-5300 or email Jan Christensen at