2008-08-14 / Front Page

Minto helped establish new island teen center

By Eileen M. Daly

Melissa Minto, the driving force behind the development of the Jamestown Teen Center, has left her post as Teen Coordinator and passed the torch to her successor.

Her Teen Center adventure began in April of 2005 with nothing more than a great idea backed by a Rhode Island Foundation Grant.

Hired as a part-time employee, Minto was determined to create a quality teen program. She began by going straight to the source: area teens. She asked them about their interests and set about developing events, activities and trips that would appeal to young people from the ages of 12 to 17.

The most challenging aspect of developing the program, according to Minto, lay in the fact that there was no physical space to house the teen center.

"We held events anywhere we could find a space: the library, the police station, the local high school or Ft. Wetherill State Park," she said. With characteristic good humor she added, "the whole program ran out of my car that first year: snacks, crafts, everything."

Despite the obvious limitations, the program enjoyed a successful first year. As the new year dawned, however, it became apparent that without a physical space to house the program it would be difficult to continue to grow. Area teens needed a central place to congregate, a place that was safe, supervised, and that provided enough structure and activity to entice teens to participate. In short, a place for teenagers to have fun, enjoy each other's company and not get into trouble. Once again, Minto took on the task.

In 2006, a presentation was made to the Town Council requesting that Minto's position be increased from part-time to fulltime. As part of the presentation, a suggestion was made to consider housing the Teen Center in a portion of the Jamestown Recreation Center. This location was considered ideal, as the physical structure already included basketball courts, ping-pong tables, pool tables and foosball tables—surefire attractions for teens. Still, in order to make it work, major renovations would be required.

The project was completed using town employees to hold down costs. Minto credits town employee Ramon Ibarlucea with completing the carpentry in the center, but admits that she assisted with the finished carpentry herself. When asked where she learned that skill, she said, "I grew up on Watson Farm. I was a bit of a tomboy. And," she added, "my dad let me play with power tools."

With the physical space renovated, donations were solicited for couches, computers, appliances and other necessities. January of 2008 marked the completion of the dream. The Grand Opening of the Jamestown Teen Center was held on February 15, 2008.

Minto's hard work, commitment to teens, and unbounded energy helped to create the fine Teen Center that Jamestown teens enjoy today.

SHe is leaving her post because she will be entering Cornell University later this month to pursue a master of professional studies degree in international agriculture and rural development. "I have wanted to get into this program for a long time and I am really excited about it," she said.

Minto has a long history of volunteering in Central America. "It's going to be hard to leave the teen center, but I've spent a lot of time in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and I believe I can make the most difference there. I am looking forward to attending Cornell and then using my skills to help impoverished communities," she said.

She combined her love of agriculture, her devotion to impoverished communities and her commitment to teens when she organized a trip to the Nicaraguan community of Goyena in July 2007. Minto and six teens traveled to Goyena to help the community recover from the devastation of a mudslide.

Eric von Hohenleiten, a 17- year-old Jamestown teen who participated, said that the trip allowed him to "travel to another country, expand my knowledge of other cultures and help people at the same time." Minto organized the teens and together they planted trees, made compost and taught the community members agriculturally sound practices. "If it weren't for Melissa, we wouldn't have gotten anything done. She is very organized and very outgoing. Everyone she meets becomes a friend," von Hohenleiten said. He described Nicaragua as "hot," but said, "The food was amazing and the people were really friendly."

Another Jamestown teen, Jessica Bucklin, 17, also accompanied Minto to Nicaragua.

"Melissa is a great person who never stops. She helps people in Jamestown and then she goes to Nicaragua and helps people there," Bucklin said. She was struck by the poverty in the Nicaraguan community and by the fact that there were sometimes "four families living together," she said. Like Minto, Bucklin said she is interested in traveling and helping others.

Minto's departure will not go unnoticed. "Melissa leaving is going to make a lot of people sad," von Hohenleiten said, "It won't be an easy role to fill."

Bucklin agreed, "We're all going to miss Melissa when she leaves. No one can really replace her," she said.

Minto, however, has worked to ensure that the teen center will continue to thrive. She worked closely with Debbie Tungett who has assumed the director's position since Minto's departure and, according to Minto, Tungett is ready to take up where she left off.

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