CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – “We’re a product of environment. If nobody else is going to do it, somebody will have to do it,” Riynard Wilson said.

Wilson wants to create a positive environment for kids who may not have one of their own. He and fellow youth mentor Tony Odom are opening a “safe space center” soon in downtown Champaign. They’re not just committed to reducing violence in the city, they want to eliminate it.

“Somebody [has to] make a change. We’re just ready, and it’s about time,” Wilson said.

Time to make “being smart cool again.” That’s Wilson and Odom’s goal.

“It means a lot to me because I have a lot of family members, a lot of friends that died from gun violence,” Wilson said.

He’s hoping to watch this generation break that cycle, and he’s working hard to be part of the solution.

“Some of these people have a lot of trauma. They have things that happen in their life that’s way different from when we grew up,” he said.

The pair’s community service runs deep – from the Boys and Girls Club, Douglass Center, and for Wilson – mental health support at The Pavilion. Their latest project? Opening a space for kids 7-18 to develop new skills.

“A lot of the time they won’t have to do criminal activity or be in the streets,” Odom said.

They’ll be spending their time learning about music production, cosmetology, entrepreneurship and more. Plus, kids will get to meet some special guests, including recording artists and professional athletes.

“We got a lot of people that we know that we just want to bring together and kind-of enlighten the kids, give them some inspiration,” Odom said.

On top of motivating kids, it’s about exposure to people in their community showing what it looks like to chase a dream.

“Representation is real. If we can get certified people going through this right now that have businesses, I think it would be a very positive thing for the community,” Wilson said.

But, participants will be held to certain school attendance and grade criteria.

“We don’t want it to seem like it’s just a space for kids to just run away from school,” Odom said. “School is very important to us.”

The center is set to open in the spring. You can find more details here.