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Wish comes true for local youths

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Interim teen center expected to open in 30 days

By Kirsten Laskey

Los Alamos teenagers dreaming of a place to call their own have little more than 30 days to wait. The Los Alamos County Council granted the longtime wish to local youth through its unanimous approval of a new teen center near the high school.
During its Dec. 21 regular meeting, council approved a $189,327 contract with the Family YMCA to operate an interim teen center. The contract has an effective date of Jan. 15 and the goal is to open the center on Feb. 14.
Funds to conduct a study regarding the project were approved last year. The temporary teen center will operate while work is completed to establish a permanent center.
“It’s important that we invest in this facility and that’s why I was so pleased when Councilor (Vincent) Chiravalle said ‘let’s not pinch pennies with our youth,’” YMCA Executive Director Linda Daly said. “What we know with data from teens, from families and from the recent community assessment is that the teens are really underserved. There is no place for our youth to go to after 8 p.m. on any given night. And teens have decided they would like to have a place to gather, to socialize, to study and have food. There is no current place for them to do that.”
So why wait two or three years for a permanent facility to be built, when it had been wished for so long, she said.
“And fortunately, our community leaders agreed,” Daly said.
There will be no fees to use the facility and it will be open to students in ninth through 12th grade. Home schooled students with a high school ID card will be welcome at the facility.
The Y hired Michelangelo Lobato to serve as center director. Additional staff will be hired including a part-time assistant director, two part-time outreach staff members, one part-time tutor and instructors, which would add up to one part-time employee offering four hours of instruction each week.
Daly said hopefully young people will answer the question regarding what the teen center will offer.
There is a call out to high school students to participate on a teen advisory board. Ideally, two teens from each class will serve on the board, Daly said.
There also is interest in forming a market committee, a program committee and other groups. Lobato said teens will have input on everything from the games that will be offered to paint colors on the walls.
Young people’s input is important because it is going to be their place, he said.
“We want them to take pride and ownership in it … that’s very important to us,” Lobato said, adding that if young people are active in the center’s creation then they will be more interested in going to the center.
From e-mails and a survey, youth have requested a
recreation room with a pool and ping pong table, arcade type games, a lounge area with a big screen TV, electronic media games and an area devoted to group and individual study with computer stations, Daly said.
Also, there are plans to sell healthy, prepackaged foods at a low cost.
The most important thing is “giving the kids a safe, comfortable place to associate with each other; that’s really the main goal,” Lobato said.
While a decision on whether the YMCA will run the permanent teen center has not been determined, Daly said, “I do believe the Y would be excellent at managing such a program and facility as we have a great track record currently in Española and we have the resources of Y’s across the country that operate youth centers, teen centers very successfully.”
The center will be located on the ground level of Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church. It’s planned to be open from 1-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m.-midnight Friday and 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday.
Teens interested in learning more about the advisory board can e-mail Lobato at mlobato.laymca.org.