Photo above: A digital rendering showing what the Ember Youth Recovery Campus will look like when it’s done. Architectural rendering courtesy of RDG Planning and Design Photo below: Andrew Allen, president and CEO of YSS, speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the organization’s Ember Youth Recovery Campus near Cambridge on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Crumb

YSS broke ground today on Ember, a nature-based, holistic youth recovery campus located on 50 acres near Cambridge.

When completed, the $20 million campus, which was announced last year, will offer 70 beds for emergency shelter, crisis stabilization, and residential addiction treatment for youths and young adults from across Iowa.

A ceremony was held at the site with several dozen people in attendance, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Joni Ernst, Rep. Randy Feenstra, donors and a representative from Woodruff Construction, which is managing construction of the campus with RDG Planning and Design.

The campus, nestled in a wooded area along a gravel road just south of the small Story County town of about 800 people, will feature a main building, cabins and outdoor recreational spaces. It will take a nature-based holistic approach to stability and recovery, and complement YSS’ other programs.

Andrew Allen, president and CEO of YSS, said the campus, once complete, will provide hope and opportunity to children and families who are struggling.

“This is Ember, a small glowing fragment of fire that when cared and nurtured can be revived. Ember reminds families and youth there is always hope, always enough fire in their hearts to overcome life’s challenges,” Allen said.

He said YSS’ mission is creating hope and opportunity by putting children first.

“Ember creates hope. Ember creates opportunity. Ember puts kids first,” Allen said. “Today, Iowa is putting kids first.”

Allen said about $5 million is still needed to complete construction of the campus, which is scheduled to open in Spring 2024. 

Allen, an alumnus of YSS programming, said Tuesday's ceremony marked one of the most important days in the organization's 46-year history. 

Reynolds said YSS’ mission will be enhanced by the Ember campus.

“This project will transform the landscape of behavioral health and addiction treatment in Iowa,” she said.

YSS serves about 10,000 children a year statewide, but Reynolds said only about 200 are able to access the emergency shelter, crisis stabilization and residential treatment for substance abuse.

Ember will allow that number to triple to about 750 a year, allowing YSS to serve more than 3,500 children over five years, Reynolds said.

“It’s incredible and amazing to consider how many more lives will be saved and changed,” she said.

Ernst said services provided by YSS and Ember are increasingly important to help children navigate the challenges of addiction, abuse and neglect, human trafficking, and teen pregnancy.

“It’s so critically important that we make sure our children have these necessary resources, the stability that they need to overcome the challenges that were handed to them,” she said. “Now we have the right people and the right facility to help them address those challenges.”

Ernst said the secluded site of the campus will help children focus on their own personal journeys, and help them “convene with nature and really be able to focus on the issues at hand.”

Russell Wood, CEO of Central Iowa Community Services, which contributed $10 million to the project, said investment in children reduces trauma and saves money in the long run because it doesn’t delay intervention until adulthood.

“What we’re doing now with this is building a fence at the top of the cliff instead of our typical approach in government, which is building an emergency room at the bottom,” he said.

Other major donors identified during the ceremony were Prairie Meadows, which awarded YSS a $600,000 grant for the project, and Dean Bowden, whose donation amount was not listed.

The land for Ember was donated by Dr. Jay Brown of the McFarland Clinic in Ames, a representative from YSS said.

Wood said the Ember campus “is not an investment in YSS, it’s an investment in the children of Iowa.”

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