2008-02-14 / Front Page

Teen Center opens for business Friday

By Michaela Kennedy

Deliveries lined up at the community center last Monday morning. A television installation, a couch and other treasures filled a renovated corner of the recreation hall in preparation for the Jamestown Teen Center opening tomorrow Friday, Feb. 15.

Teen center coordinator Melissa Minto is all smiles this week in anticipation of the teen center's official opening at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Top place winners for the teen center logo competition will be announced. A ribbon cutting and speeches by public officials will herald the official establishment of a decades long wish by generations of Jamestowners. The wish was for a place that aspiring adults could call their own.

Excitement barely describes the feeling that Minto, the teenagers, and involved community members have about the opening of the teen center. Yet Minto admits that the vision for a teen center started years before she came on board. "The idea has been around for years, but it was the eighth graders about five years ago that started it all," Minto explained.

Kate Moreau, who is now a high school senior, remembers the class project that set wheels turning for the center. In history class in 2003, a lesson called "Project Citizen" was taught to all eighth grade students. "Every class came up with problems in our community with different ways to solve them," Moreau explained. "One problem was boredom for middle school and high school kids. We went to the town and got support for the idea."

Moreau says the idea of having a teen center was big, and expresses satisfaction at having contributed to a cause that benefits future generations. "I'm really excited. I don't think it will do me much good since I'm leaving Jamestown and won't be a teen here much longer. But it will be great for the younger kids."

The young adults made people in the community aware of their need, but then a state institution drove home the point to the residents. "We've had amazing support from the Rhode Island Foundation," Minto notes. In 2004, members of the Conanicut Community Coalition wrote a grant to the R.I. Foundation, and in 2005, $150,000 was awarded to the town through the Newport County Fund. "That's $50,000 a year for three years to fund programming costs," Minto explains.

The teen center was then born in the town grange and senior center on West Street, soon after the eighth grade students presented their idea to the town. Charlotte Richardson, master of the Conanicut Grange and head of the Friends of the Jamestown Seniors, was instrumental in helping the youngsters, and Minto was hired as coordinator. "The seniors were amazingly generous in letting us use their space for two years," Minto remembers. Regular teen hours were set, and kids gathered to talk about the events they wanted to do. They finally had the money and adult presence to run programs and events. "The foundation showed the town its (teen center) value, and now it's time for the town to pick it up," Minto adds.

The town has picked up responsibility in a variety of efforts so far. A space in the recreation center was offered rent-free. Refurbished computers from the school and the town will be set up in the center. The police department donated $1,000 for a television.

Architect Ron DiMauro donated designs for the center's construction. Other supporters in the community stepped forward to offer helping hands. "The generosity of the community got us to this point," Minto says.

One of the first projects the teenagers have planned for the center is to design tiles with the names of donors who have supported the teen program. "Tiles for Teens" will be displayed as a mosaic mural on a wall of the space. "The fundraising project has raised $4,000, and we are still expecting more tiles to be donated," Minto notes.

The youth club has drawn great support from neighboring Newport. Minto has already involved teen groups with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, the Women's Resource Center, the Boys and Girls Club and Youth Pride Inc. "Involvement with other communities has made kids realize what other communities have to offer, and how lucky they are themselves for what they have," Minto says.

After stocking the center at East Ferry with video games, art supplies, computers and books, Minto talks about the bones of the operation. Workshops, tutors, speakers and monthly dinners are a few of the ideas already in the works for the center. "The future of the center is dependent on adult volunteers," Minto says. "The possibilities are limitless."

The key to making a teen center work is to include the teenagers in every aspect of preparation. "You can't plan an activity without the kids," Minto advises. She smiles, remembering events she tried to plan but failed without input from the aspiring adults. "When they are involved, it's always a success."

Minto invites the whole community to stop by the new teen center on Friday night. For those who would like to offer funding support, tiles will be available to purchase for the "Tiles for Teens" fundraising project. Fill out the ad on page 17 and help the teen center get off to a great start.

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