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When teen center Director Michelangelo Lobato gave his annual report to the Los Alamos County Council in 2011, he said, “I have a Master’s degree in psychology, and I’ve done counseling for the last 10 years. And I feel that in the nine months that I’ve been with the teen center, I’ve had more of an impact on teens than in the 10 years that I’ve actually worked in counseling with them.
“I can connect with them in a different way here. They’re making this their home away from home.”
Lobato has directed the teen center since it opened two and a half years ago.
“I’ve been with it from the ground up,” Lobato said. “When I came in, they had the space rented. But I came in and got a teen group together and we did everything from the colors on the wall to what equipment came in here.”
Despite his passion for the center and working with teens, Lobato has accepted the position of school counselor at Chamisa Elementary.
“It was really, really a tough decision, because I have so much invested in the teen center. I worked really, really hard just to get it off the ground, to make a successful program,” Lobato said. “And I believe, being the successful program that it is today, that was a big reason the county invested $4 million and the community building for a new center.
“I love the people I work with, I love the YMCA, and I love the teens. It’s pretty amazing. So it’s one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make.”
Lobato made the decision with the help of his wife, Meg.
“She sees things from a different perspective than I do, and we just thought it would be the best thing for me and for us as a family right now,” Lobato said.
In fact, having more time with his family was a major reason for Lobato’s decision. The Lobatos have three children, 5-year-old James and three-year-old twins Noah and Eliana.
“I’ll never get their childhood moments back, and I want to spend as much time with them as I can when they want to spend time with me,” Lobato said. “Once they reach a certain age, dad’s probably not going to be that cool anymore. I want to be there and watch them grow and teach them things.
“Recognizing that is really the main factor in me switching over.”
Lobato is also looking forward to working with younger children professionally.
“I think that’s a great age to reach kids. I think they’re really impressionable at that age and I think I can be really helpful in that area.”
Lobato has a previous connection with Chamisa.
“I ran the WHO program – We Help Ourselves – for Family Strengths Network, and I worked in Chamisa School. I’ve been really impressed with the staff there and the principal, and they seem like really amazing people.”
Lobato is hoping there will be opportunities to start some programs at Chamisa that will allow for more mentoring, perhaps even ways to involve the teens.
“One of the main reasons I took this job is I felt I could be a good connection from the community to the schools. And I think it will be beautiful. I think it will work great.”
Lobato intends to maintain his connection to the teen center.
“I definitely will still have a huge stake in the teen center, because of my love for it, my love for the teens,” Lobato said. “I just want to be there to see them get what they worked so hard for. I worked hard, but they worked just as hard to make this happen.”
Lobato will continue offering music activities at the teen center, and plans to offer his help to the new director. He also wants to continue working with the Family YMCA and helping with the new teen center.
Lobato will be part of the committee interviewing applicants for the director’s position.
“I really, really want to make sure that person knows what they’re getting into and will do a better job than I did in making this a safe place for teens, and a place they can call their own,” Lobato said.
“It is tricky running a teen center, because you have to be a disciplinarian, a parent and a friend at the same time, and it can get rough and hard.
“But I think the main thing is that person has to have the respect of the teens. Because if they respect you, then they’re going to listen to your feedback and they’re going to follow directions. And I think that’s the most important thing at the teen center, is having someone they trust and respect.”
The call for applications for the position closes today, and interviews start next week. Lobato believes an announcement about his replacement could come as early as Aug. 12.