2006-07-27 / News

Councilor Szepatowski says she's 'not happy' with teen center progress

By Dotti Farrington

Some Town Councilors Monday expressed concern that the town seems to be pursuing only long-range solutions to meet teen needs, while no immediate answers have been forthcoming on the problem of teens with nothing to do, especially at night.

Councilman Michael Schnack asked if a forthcoming meeting was going to be conducted in "Melissa's car," a reference to the fact that Teen Coordinator Melissa Minto uses her vehicle as her office and for youth equipment storage because the town has no designated space for teens and their supplies.

The remark came when Town Administrator Bruce Keiser reported that an "on site" meeting with the Rhode Island Foundation was being planned. Keiser responded to Schnack by saying that the meeting would be in his, Keiser's, office. The foundation is providing the town, through its Department of Parks and Recreation, with a grant of $50,000 a year for three years to pay Minto and to work on solutions for the teens. The grant is in its second year.

Keiser said Minto and the Conanicut Community Coalition, recently formed by the recreation department are doing superior work and Rhode Island Foundation officials have been quoted as commending their progress.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, who two weeks ago was named liaison for youth, said that Minto "deserves credit and we all recognize the work she and the committee are doing but a number of us are not happy with the progress to find a place now (as a teen center)."

While the R.I. Foundation reportedly is greatly impressed with what is being done in many ways, Szepatowski said, it is also "not happy" that the teens have no center and none is expected in the immediate future.

Szepatowski had been working toward a temporary center to be opened by July 4, but was told to abandon the plan because some foundation leaders feared a temporary location would negatively impact long-range plans for a permanent center.

Currently, the teens sometimes meet at the Senior Center at the Grange Hall and sometimes at the town Community Center. But they have no place to store their supplies and that is how Minto's car has become known as the teen office.

Szepatowski said that efforts to get a permanent center should be made more than once a month at the meeting of volunteers with Minto. She noted that the teens asked councilors in April for a place to use. She has acted privately as an advocate for teens

Keiser referred to the coalitions work "to stimulate capital planning in an organized way to secure a site for a center, to plan a budget, and to handle logistical issues such as the location and size of a center."

Szepatowski said existing needs should be met by town personnel who can commit to daily needs. She said she realized that the coalition volunteers have fulltime jobs or commitments, and that monthly meetings might be appropriate for long-term planning.

Keiser said that a community the size of Jamestown has little middle management and staff. In Jamestown, the responsibility for ongoing work for teens falls logically on the recreation director, Matt Bolles, and he has been

working with the coalition on the long-range plans, the town administrator said.

Councilman William Kelly said, "We would be nave to believe our teens are not in crisis. We definitely need to do something."

The councilors learned only a few weeks ago that the coalition, which they previously thought was a private operation, is a town function when Bolles explained that it was formed by representatives of his department, as recipient of the grant, with representatives from the town schools, library, police, and the Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force.

Next month, the council expects reports from Keiser and Bolles about the meeting with RI Foundation officials and other aspects of the overall teen situation.

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