2006-07-13 / News

Szepatowski named Town Council liaison to the community coalition on teenagers

By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council Monday appointed Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski liaison to the Conanicut Community Coalition, a committee organized by the town recreation department.

The coalition was formed to help co-ordinate activities under a three-year $50,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation for teen programs, including possibly creating a permanent teen center.

Szepatowski has acted privately as an advocate for teens as well as other causes. She was forced to back away from her plan for a temporary center for the teens because some members of the coalition were concerned about how a temporary center would impact any plans that might evolve for a permanent teen operation.

The councilors learned Monday that the coalition, which they previously thought was a private group, is a town committee, according to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.

He and Recreation Director Matthew Bolles explained that the coalition was formed by representatives of Bolles' department, as recipient of the grant, with the town schools, library, police, and the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force.

The coalition was organized to get funding for youth opportunities for the town, Bolles said. Bolles, who acts as chairman of the group, said the coalition decided last month to ask the council for a liaison.

Szepatowski told her fellow council members that she should not be the liaison "because I'm involved" as an advocate. Council Vice President Julio DiGiando expressed concern that her existing role might conflict with a role as a liaison whose work would be to observe and report, not participate. Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch said a participant could also be a liaison.

"For a town like ours, it is hard to believe we have no place for a teen home. We need a place for these kids," Szepatowski said. She reported a recent example of young teens playing hide and seek downtown at midnight. "They need activities. They have no place to go," she noted.

"We are at such loose ends. We obviously have a very real need for constructive activities for the kids," Councilman William Kelly said.

Melissa Minto, town youth coordinator, recently told the Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force that she "got a sense that there will be a lot of shifting around in the next few years" regarding a teen center and the role the Community Center could have for teens.

The coalition "decided that they need to take a thoughtful approach to this process and that a strategic planning session might help identify its mission, goals, etc.," according to the task force.

Minto also reported that the Rhode Island Foundation is pleased with the progress under the grant it has given to Jamestown. "But they worry about the stability of the program," she said. In addition, Minto said she would be leaving her position as teen coordinator in a year.

Several weeks ago, Szepatowski was prepared to lead a group of volunteers to renovate a small garage behind the Town Offices on Southwest Avenue for use as a temporary youth center. That plan has since been dropped.

Teens have access to the Senior Center/Grange Hall for some activities, but they have no place to store equipment or office supplies. So far, the teens have been shut out of the Community Center, and they are not listed as part of the plans for the second-floor renovations to the former clubhouse at the townowned golf-course, which is currently used for recreation programs. Talk to expand the Community Center, possibly by adding a second floor, has been taking a back seat to other town construction projects.

The councilors agreed they need to review the overall teen situation, and are planning to receive further reports next month from Keiser and Bolles.

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