By Ann McCreary
Each Friday afternoon the Valley Teen Center at TwispWorks opens its doors to local youth, offering a safe, supervised place to hang out for the evening.
Now in its third year, the Teen Center serves about 35 – 40 different teens each month, who come to eat, play games, watch movies and chill with friends.
“We’re able to provide a safe place one night a week right now. We want to expand that,” said Robin Doggett, co-chair of the Teen Center board of directors.
The Teen Center provides a venue “outside of scholastic activity and outside of sports” for teens from 13 – 17 years old, Doggett said. It opens at 3:45 p.m. and closes at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays, and is supervised by a paid adult staff member and an adult volunteer from the community.
“Friday night is important because it’s a night when kids really feel like they want to do something. For some kids who don’t have super-positive home lives, Friday night can be a time of stress,” Doggett said.
“It’s an alternative to going to a party or being in a situation where you’re having to ride in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving,” she said.
The Teen Center welcomes all valley teens, but offers an especially important opportunity “for kids that may have challenging home lives,” Doggett said.
“The ability to be around healthy adult interactions and have some mentoring opportunities is important. It’s a low-key interaction that’s safe and positive,” Doggett said.
The Teen Center received its nonprofit, 501(c)3 designation this year, and is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to cover operating expenses, including the salary of a part-time lead chaperone, the only paid employee. The center has also had an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, paid by a grant, to help build the organization’s capacity.
The lead chaperone, Jesse Asia, coordinates adult volunteers who work with her to supervise and mentor teens.
The Friday evening sessions include a meal and activities of the teens’ choice — movies, video games, music and dancing, Doggett said.
“There is not a lot of pressure or expectations,” Doggett said. Rules state no drugs, alcohol or weapons are allowed, the teens are expected to be respectful to peers and their belongings, and must sign in and out of the center.
This year the center developed a conflict resolution process to handle any behavior problems that arise, Doggett said. Working with counselors and community members the center created a process that includes an “accountability panel,” which includes teens, to address issues and possible remediation when problems occur.
“The effect of it was really great. It empowers a lot of kids who come to the Teen Center. It gives them the ability to mitigate issues that come up and be part of the solution. They are learning how to handle and resolve issues on an adult level,” Doggett said.
The center received help this year from the Winthrop Kiwanis to improve the outdoor space around the center, and held a skills course and barbeque with firefighters from Okanogan County Fire District 6.
The Teen Center board hopes to expand programming next year to include a facilitated support group for teens who come from homes where there is substance abuse, Doggett said. “We want to heighten support for them,” she said.
The center also hopes to expand spring and summer outdoor activities for teens, which will require coordinating transportation and involving more mentors “who are comfortable taking kids out on a trail.”
For information about the Teen Center, visit mvalleyteencenter.wordpress.com, or call (509) 341-4279.