Teen coordinator takes her talents across the bridge
Debbie Tungett is leaving her post as the Jamestown teen coordinator, a position she has held since June 2008. Although she is stepping down, Tungett will continue to work part time at the recreation center.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” she said. “The kids, the families, the community members, business owners, teachers, school personnel, Town Council members – everyone is great. I don’t have anything negative to say about anything that happened here.”
According to Tungett, she is leaving for professional reasons. She said that there isn’t much opportunity for advancement or for increased pay.
According to Bill Piva, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, she will be missed. “One of the things I really appreciated about Debbie is that she took on all of the grant writing for the Parks and Recreation Department, including the teen center. Debbie is an excellent writer. She was vigilant about applying for a ton of grants. In the grant-writing world you don’t always get what you want, but of the ones we did get, Debbie was the tip of the spear for that. It can be tedious work. We’ll miss that aspect of Debbie.”
Tungett was working at U-Haul in 2008 when former Jamestown council member Barbara Szepatowski, who was a regular customer there, informed her that a position might be opening up at the teen center. Szepatowski was aware that Tungett had a background in after-school programs, and she also knew that Tungett’s predecessor, Melissa Minto, was preparing to go to graduate school.
Tungett’s reason for taking the job at the teen center was simple: “I love working with kids.”
She mentioned field trips, particularly trips to Six Flags and to Block Island, as highlights for her and the students. “Every year, people were constantly asking, ‘When are we going, when are we going?” Tungett said. “So they kind of stuck as staples in the teen center schedule for the summer. We also got to go to the Celtics. That was really fun.”
Tungett developed the job corps program at the teen center. She said there was a lack of opportunities for young people to earn money in Jamestown, so they worked to fill the gap. “People would call looking for kids to help with yard work and babysitting, things like that,” she said. “We connected the community members looking for help with kids looking for work.” Some 40 local students have found work with about 25 community members.
Another program that Tungett developed was a leadership group called Adolescents Making Programs for Teens – or AMPT. The group meets weekly and each year they do a community service project. They also plan field trips and events for their peers. This year the leadership group will also create a family engagement opportunity and Tungett expects there to be a cookout or pasta dinner.
“Debbie was always trying to find new and fun things for the young teens to do,” Piva said. “A lot of times we let the teens tell us what they’re interested in, and as typically teens can be, it took a lot of prodding and poking to get them to go on trips or do different things. Debbie was great at bringing out ideas from the young people that we have visiting the rec.”
Tungett said that it helps that Jamestown is a close-knit community. “Everyone really cares for the kids and they work together really well to give them the best opportunities possible.”
Tungett is excited that she will remain a part of the teen center in her new role as coordinator of Newport County After School Excitement, also known as iNCASE. She will also be on the part-time staff at the teen center and be a board member for the Friends of Jamestown Youth.
“The Newport County After School Excitement is a project that the teen center helped to be a founding member of back in 2009,” Tungett said. “It was funded through the Rhode Island Foundation and the teen center has helped to realize the idea of having different community partners in the after-school field working together. We’ve gotten to the point where we have 70 kids participating in every community in Newport County. We’ve gotten kids from the schools to the programs. We’ve recruited program providers. It’s really cool that the teen center was part of getting it together and now keeping it together.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Newport County is the fiscal agent for iNCASE and will be Tungett’s new employer. Tungett said her responsibility will be to increase after-school choices for families around the county.
Tungett will be replaced on an interim basis by Molly Conlon, who has been with the rec department for four years.
“The process going forward will be to give her a trial run at the position,” Piva said. “Then we’ll make a decision, probably around summertime, about how we’re going to proceed from there. We’re going to call her the interim coordinator at this point, but Molly has everything I see that can take the teen center to another level. She was born and raised in Jamestown and grew up in this building as a young person, like I did. She knows the teens. She’s a bright kid. The kids love her.”