2006-11-30 / Front Page

Community Center to host teen program

By Dotti Farrington

Town Councilman Michael Schnack balked Monday about officially authorizing any town teen center, but relented and agreed that a section of the town Community Center can be assigned for "office space for teen programming."

The other councilors said that they supported space at the Community Center as the official "town teen center." They suggested that Schnack's position reflected semantics, and not concept.

Schnack had been absent at the meeting earlier this month when his colleagues sanctioned by consensus the administrative plans to reestablish use of the Community Center as the island's official Teen Center. Council President David Long was absent from this week's meeting, but he previously made clear his support for use of the Community Center in a way that serves the town teens.

The Councilors also agreed Monday to commend Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski for her persistence in working for solutions for town teen needs and serving as liaison with the Rhode Island Foundation that has funded much of the teen programming in town. Earlier this month, the councilors recognized Melissa Minto, co-ordinator of the local youth program for two years, for reaping high praise from the foundation for the quality of programs she created for local teens, even though she and the teens had no delegated space and she used her car as an operations base.

For this week's meeting, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser presented a detailed report, prepared mainly by Minto, in response to questions submitted several weeks ago by Council Vice President Julio DiGiando. Keiser added an evaluation by police on their observations of local youths and their needs. School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser summarized the school's support of teen programs.

Both Police Sergeants Angela Deneault and William Piva Jr. were cited as being committed to working directly with Minto and other officials to help make the teen program effective, according to reports to the council. Deneault summarized police observations about teen activities as involving core groups of youths ages 10 to 18 who "are not home many evenings and need a place to go," Keiser reported.

The town administrator said Deneault defined them as "not bad, and should be at home, but for various reasons, they are not." She listed observations of them as skateboarding, hanging out, and being with friends. She said there was little or no delinquency involved, although there have been some relatively minor incidents of vandalism, including this past week at the town library. She and colleagues definitely support a teen center in general and a teen center at the Community Center specifically, Keiser said.

DiGiando said the reports made clear that a teen center is needed, and that it is appropriate at the Community Center. However, he said he continued to be concerned about the teen center hours. "Call me geezerly, but anything after 6 p.m. is too late," he said.

Kaiser said school officials generally lean toward 8 to 8:30 p.m. limits for school nights. She noted that hourly and other "problematic" concerns led school officials to not support the Narragansett Avenue second floor commercial property that had been considered as a possible teen activity space.

DiGiando summarized the reports: "The police are for it. The schools are for it. I am looking for support, to defend a teen center."

Schnack suggested the police position is that they "see the kids in plain sight and they are not causing mischief. We have to make sure we provide them with programming so they do not cause havoc. If there is no programming, they will create havoc. They're kids. I was a kid once."

Schnack said the teens probably could have headquarters at the Community Center, but not necessarily with the official designation as a teen center. He noted

that he did not oppose a teen office space, but he was opposed to calling it a teen center.

Szepatowski pointed out that the Rhode Island Foundation had identified the teens' biggest problem as the lack of a dedicated space for them and their activities. Keiser said that the "end goal of all efforts for the youths was a teen center."

Schnack joined the vote to delegate the programming and teen center development to Keiser, and he suggested the item be removed from the council agenda, where it has been for several months "except for occasionally updates" by the administration. The council action reflected expectations that school night activities usually would end by 8:30 p.m., and that occasional non-school night events could end a little later.

Report highlights

The reports on youths from various sources included these items: • About 350 youths, from grades 7 through 12 may participate in teen programs, with nearly half having attended at least one event and about 15 percent

having attended at least three

activities.

• All teens walked or arranged

their own rides to six local sites

for activities.

• The town van or a coach bus was used for one or more trips

to seven off island locations for

events.

• The teen program has 15 boxes for arts, crafts, supplies, board games, electronics, and other materials that have had to be packed and repacked for each day of use without a designated space. • The town has a role "to serve as a positive asset" for youth allowed to be out at night, many left unsupervised by parents who work. Studies show that teens supervised in after school activities have a much

lower likelihood of developing

behavior problems.

• Teens can earn some school credits for community service,

as arranged as part of teen programming.

• In addition to general town teen programs, the schools offer

several after- school enrichment

options.

• Several town agencies in 2004 formed the Conanicut Community Coalition to work on "teen boredom," defined since at least 1997, with an emphasis on co-ordinating

activities selected by teens

themselves.

• Teens in 2004 asked for a

teen center, transportation and

supervision.

• Teens in 1997 defined goals as games, field trips, and a place to hang out. They were split over preferences for weekday or weeknight activities, and gave lowest scores to fundraising,

guest speakers, and homework

help.

• In 2004, parents most wanted community service opportunities, homework help, and educational clubs.

Other factors

Space for the teen center will be made possible by moving the Harbor Office out of the Community Center, and designating most or all of the lobby space for teen use.

The Rhode Island Foundation recently cited Jamestown youths as having the best and most successful of any teen program that the foundation funds or has evaluated for funding. The leaders of foundations had high praise for Minto. She and the program are in the third year of a $150,000 grant from the foundation to run activities for island teens.

Council President David Long called the report "impressive praise" from the foundation.

Local teens were squeezed out of the Community Center in recent years by other recreation activities. Their activates were allowed to be take place at the Senior Center in the Grange Hall, but the teens had no room to store needed supplies and equipment.

The teens lost the offer 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 leaders.

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