Teens find home at community center
The Town Council by consensus Monday sanctioned administrative plans to re-establish use of the town Community Center as the island's official teen center. The councilors also recognized Melissa Minto, co-ordinator of the youth program working "out of her car" for two years, for reaping top praise from the Rhode Island Foundation for the quality of the programs she put together for town youth.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council about the latest plans for the teens that will be accomplished in part by moving the Harbor Office out of the Community Center and into either the police station or into the temporary Town Hall at the country club building on Conanicus Avenue until the new town hall complex is opened next summer.
Keiser also told the council about last week's commendation by the Rhode Island Foundation for Jamestown youths' having the best and most successful of any teen program that the foundation funds or has evaluated for funding. Keiser said foundation leaders "were ecstatic at the efforts of Melissa and volunteers to pull together visible, active programs. I was struck by their appreciation that we were pulling ourselves up by the boot straps through the ups and downs."
Council President David Long called the report "impressive praise from the Rhode Island Foundation."
Minto reported that the foundation pledged to continue to help get the program financial support as may be needed. She and the program are in the third year of a $150,000 grant from the foundation to run activities for island teens.
Local teens were squeezed out of the Community Center in recent years by other recreation activities. They were given shelter by the Senior Center operated at the Grange Hall, where the young people conducted some activities. Minto and her young charges had to pack and repack their supplies and equipment after each session because there was no space at the Grange Hall that could be allotted for the teens' equipment.
The teens also lost the promise of a temporary center behind the Town Offices on Southwest Avenue, and failed to gain support for other proposed options elsewhere as town adults wrestled with teen needs amid the lack of solutions acceptable to town officials.
This week's reports seemed to put everything into perspective and to return the lost traditional teen center to the youths. Teens themselves, under Minto's early guidance, asked the council two years ago for a permanent, adequate space and program. Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski responded with several efforts, including conversion of a space behind the Town Offices, that were shot down for various reasons. However, she continued to campaign for teen needs.
Council Vice President Julio DiGiando started to protest Keiser's plans for the Community Center because DiGiando's questions of some months ago about teen programs remained unanswered. He was especially concerned about the time teen programs would end on weekday nights. Long and Councilman William Kelly acknowledged DiGiando's concerns about program specifics and hours, but convinced him to restrain his objections. They also convinced Keiser to prepare written
answers for the Nov. 27 council
Keiser and Minto both said that they are committed to the center being opened Mondays through Thursdays no later than 8:30.
The town administrator said he recommended the re-establishment of the Community Center for the teen center, based in part on conversations with long- time residents who recalled their own experiences as youths using that building to just hang out and gather for fun activities. He said he signed onto a building permit more than a week ago, before council consensus, to enable some renovations in the Harbor Office to modify it for youth uses.
What happens to the Harbor Office depends mainly on whether the town library can accommodate users of the police stations for meetings until the new town hall is opened. If meeting space is resolved, the harbor clerk will go to the police station. Otherwise, it can be blended into the former country club building, which is being used as a temporary town hall.
Minto said that in addition to social and recreational options, her program would include components to enable teens to get help with homework, meet with mentors or counselors, and to otherwise explore and experience educational and cultural activities. Keiser said the teens' regained space would add computers and art resources. The teen programs represented "collaborated efforts between recreation and education officials to piece together overlapping responsibilities," Minto added.