2013-08-15 / News

Residents show support to teen center at recreation forum

By Margo Sullivan

Last week’s forum to discuss youth programs at the recreation center drew about a dozen people, most of them residents saying they came specifically to support the teen center.

Monica Lamboy of the UMass Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management moderated the discussion. Lamboy and Rob Haley are the consultants hired to conduct a comprehensive study on the town’s recreation programs and facilities.

Given the interests of the group, she suggested starting the discussion with the teen center.

“What makes it so special?” she asked.

Elizabeth and Dick Lynn said they feel the rec center provides a “safe place” for their daughter to go after school.

According to Dick Lynn, “The people running it do a great job.”

Referring to Teen Coordinator Molly Conlon, Lynn said she’s a good influence. “Molly’s been a great mentor for our daughter,” he said. “She’s great with kids.”

Lynn’s daughter has especially enjoyed going on trips with the teen center, which includes beaches and amusement parks.

Lamboy asked the couple how they knew when their daughter was at the teen center.

“She texts us,” Elizabeth Lynn said.

Tom Conlon said he is a big fan of his daughter, who has directed the center since Debbie Tungett Bailey left in March 2012. Conlon and his son, Ryan, a member of the School Committee, said they were attending the forum to support Molly.

Laurel Falces said her son, Noah Franjione, 19, has also benefitted from programs at the teen center. She says it has helped helped him stay connected to Jamestowners.

Noah is bused to school outside town.

“He hasn’t had the opportunity to go to neighborhood schools,” she said. “It gives him an opportunity to socialize.”

Noah said he enjoys the trips, especially to Block Island, Six Flags and Lake Compounce, a Connecticut amusement park.

Falces said the teens also take supervised trips to baseball games, and at Christmas, they go on a trip to the Emerald Square Mall in South Attleboro, Mass.

Jessica Burrows, a college student and Jamestown resident, said the staff makes an effort to be inclusive and make youngsters feel comfortable. She works with Noah and brings him to the teen center.

“We have never felt less than welcome,” she said.

According to Burrows, Noah gains from involvement with other teens, and their understanding of diversity improves due to having contact with him.

Burrows used to attend the teen center herself but “aged out.” She would like to see some teen programs, similar to the Tuesday night basketball games, open to older teens and people in their early 20s who want to stay connected.

In attendance were Meg Myles, a Jamestown resident who directs the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation, and Town Councilor Mary Meagher. Bailey, the former teen coordinator, also attended.

Bailey now works with the Boys & Girls Club in Newport. She said the leadership-development program makes the teen center special.

She continues to be involved with Jamestown youth programs in her role with the Boys & Girls Club, which is a regional organization. She is also a board member of Friends of Jamestown Youth.

Elizabeth Lynn also praised the leadership development, which she described as not “overly programmed.”

“It functions really well,” she said.

Elaborating on the program, Burrows said the youths will meet to plan a special event, such as a dance. Among the tasks, she said, they might hire a disc jockey. If so, they could use meeting time to send email messages and make telephone calls to prospective candidates.

Bailey said the teens learn to “work within a budget” on projects. They sometimes ask for donations, she added.

Job referrals are another plus for the teen center, Falces said.

Ana and Richard Irwin said their children have used the center. Both children have landed jobs through referrals from staffers at the rec center, she said.

“I have a son in college who is still working for the same man who hired him four years ago,” she said.

Lynn said it’s hard to get that first recommendation for a job. “The teen center does that for them,” she said.

Bailey said the center helps with odd jobs, but also offers a work- readiness program.

Summing up, Lamboy said the teen center provides youngsters with mentoring and job referrals, organizes activities and day trips, is available for youngsters who want to drop in after school, and also provides parents with a safe place for the children to go after school.

Moreover, Bailey said, the staff can connect teens with resources on and off the island if the youngsters want to pursue interests like photography or ceramics.

Lynn said the teen center also sponsors programs that build awareness of social issues.

Ideas to improve the rec center included swipe cards to help staff monitor the teen’s comings and goings. Bailey noted the building has seven doors, and keeping track of entrances and exits can be challenging.

Burrows said some of the computers are not working well and suggested installing replacement machines.

Space is sometimes a problem, Lamboy noted, because the gym is not available when other groups like the community theater are using the rec center.

Also, Lamboy said, people have to go to the rec center in person to register for programs, although they can obtain the forms online.

Lynn said she was unaware that several programs such as intergenerational volleyball were being offered. She suggested the Recreation Department should improve communications so people are aware of opportunities. She also suggested offering more activities that are less athletic, such as croquet.

Dick Lynn suggested any kind of game night, with board games or bingo.

Turning to the condition of fields and facilities, Lamboy said the playground at the library was a “great combination” for the children, but Myles said there has been a wasp nest there and suggested the hazard should have been removed. Over the years, Burrows said, some playground equipment has been taken out and not replaced.

Finally, Lamboy asked for “big and crazy” ideas for the future, and the residents responded with suggestions for a bowling alley, swimming pool, shuttle, bike paths and a driving range.

According to Myles, it’s obvious the town needs a new facility in addition to the rec center. A sailing center would be a welcome addition, she said.

Tom Conlon suggested a small amphitheater at Fort Getty for musical performances. He said he mentioned Fort Getty, but the location could be elsewhere. He also proposed building more storage for kayaks.

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