2008-07-10 / Front Page

New Teen Center director prepares to take charge

By Eileen Daly

Jamestown Teen Center Director Melissa Minto will leave her position in August to pursue a graduate degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development at Cornell University. She will be passing the torch to the newly appointed director, Debbie Tungett.

Tungett, who was born and raised on Aquidneck Island, is currently working side-by-side with Minto to insure the transition goes smoothly. The plan is to gradually decrease Minto's hours while Tungett accepts increasing responsibility for the position. This will allow Tungett to become accustomed to the position while also providing the teens with a less jarring experience than would occur if she were to simply assume the position after Minto's departure.

Tungett received her bachelor's in social work and political science from Illinois State University. Upon graduating, she accepted a position at Rogers High School in Newport as director of the Student Activity Center. There, she worked collaboratively with the Martin Luther King Center, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Women's Resource Center.

As director, Tungett planned teen activities, participated in programs such as peer mediation, the Student's Against Domestic Abuse Program, and the Youth Pride Program. She also developed a program of Ladies' Nights and Fellows' Nights, at the high school, wherein students where encouraged to discuss such topics as dating, eating disorders, academics, and other teen-related concerns. Tungett left the position when the grant that funded the program expired.

She then accepted a position with a teen emergency center in Portsmouth. This center served as a transitional facility for teenaged girls from the ages of 12 to 17. In this position, Tungett supervised and provided support to young women in difficult circumstances. Residents included runaways, children removed from their homes and awaiting safe placements, and children involved in the criminal justice system.

Although she enjoyed working with the children at the center, the combination of difficult working conditions and long hours eventually became too much for her and she returned to a position she had held previously as a customer service representative with the U-Haul Company, she said.

While working at this position, Tungett came in contact with a lot of local community members including Town Council member Barbara Szepatowski, a long time supporter of the Jamestown Teen Center. According to Tungett, when Szepatowski learned that the director's position would soon become vacant she immediately thought of her. Tungett said she "took Barbara's advice and applied for the position." She was hired to begin on June 13.

Tungett is coming on board at an exciting time for the teen center, according to both Minto and Tungett. They agreed that the upcoming year promises to be full of great new activities and programs for Jamestown youth. One of the top priorities they have identified for the upcoming year is to increase communication with teens through the development of a Teen Center Web site and newsletter. Tungett said she plans to involve the teens in this process and would like them to participate in the design and distribution of the newsletter.

Other plans for the year, she said, include the "Speakers and Sundaes Program," which will showcase topics relevant to teens, a fall tutoring program, and a program to assist teens with finding and securing volunteer and employment opportunities. Finally, as part of the grant agreement, Tungett said, she will be working with Minto and Recreation Director Bill Piva to develop a community guidebook that will aid in creating similar facilities in other communities.

The teen center is now open with regular drop-in hours. Summer open hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 8 p.m. School year open hours will be Monday through Thursday 2:30 to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 2:30 to 6 p.m.

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