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Pagosa Youth Center:For the good of our community

Less than a year ago, the Pagosa Springs Youth Center was only a vague idea.

Now, the former Power House is an impressive organization that is already providing much to the youth of our community.

The youth center will officially open its doors to teens and provide a full array of programs and activities on Jan. 1, 2010.

This place is a lot more than a building — it is an enterprise that is full of enthusiasm, positive attitudes and tremendous potential.

When local school board member and youth advocate Joanne Irons attended a Powerhouse board meeting on Jan. 9 of this year, she learned the organization was looking for inspiration, ideas and funding necessary to keep the program on its feet. For several years, Power House had operated in the building just east of the Town Park athletic field, but it was having difficulties staying open.

Right then, Irons said, she “knew that we needed a youth center again — a place that was by the teens and for the teens.” The burning question, naturally, was how to accomplish this. Irons took over the building from the Powerhouse board and immediately went to work.

Financial concerns were the first items that needed to be addressed. Basic needs, such as utilities and insurance, could run at least $15,000 annually. Staffing, program development and implementation, and program equipment, would certainly not be free. Additionally, Irons knew there would have to be community “buy-in” for such an endeavor to succeed.

Local and regional organizations and foundations have taken a positive interest in the goals set forth for the youth center. The center is dedicated to providing a safe and supervised tobacco-, alcohol- and drug-free gathering place for youth. Its mission is to be inclusive of teens from all demographics. There will be no religious affiliation or practice included in the programs. An additional goal is to provide a facility that other community organizations can rent for classes, programs or large events.

The center is being supported, in part, by grants awarded by the Promoting Prevention Coalition (PPC), made up of 18 local agencies with the same ultimate goals for our teens, and by The Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Program (RSAPP).

RSAPP, in turn, funds AmeriCorps. Through the RSAPP grant there is money available for three AmeriCorps workers, all Pagosa Springs residents, to work with Irons to make the center fully operational. These workers are Lon Hofmann, Carolinda Otis and Kelly Wilderson. The RSAPP is funded by El Pomar Foundation, which has always been generous in support of programs in our area.

Once needs for the building were determined, local businesses and contractors pitched in, often donating time and materials. Thanks to this funding and support, Irons successfully jumped through all the necessary hoops and obtained a business license and a certificate of occupancy for the building. Agencies are working together to provide a wide variety of educational, recreational and nutritional programs at the center.

To assure there would be comprehensive teen input from the beginning of the project, Irons drew a representative group of teens together for a brainstorming “focus seminar” last spring. Students from groups such as student councils, representatives from the Ed. Center, Boy Scouts and Junior Rotary came together to share ideas about what a youth center should look like and how it would function. Just last week, these and additional ideas were addressed and refined by another group of teens. This input has defined the programs and activities that will be available after Jan. 1. A student board will be selected, and these teens will write the code of conduct for the center.

The youth center is already serving younger youth in the community, as well as teens. For example, when the popular summer Park Fun Program was cancelled for 2009, kids ages 5 through 12 and their parents were suddenly left without this summer opportunity. A childcare license was quickly applied for and obtained, and the “Xtreme Day Camp” was born. Karen Carpenter served as director of the camp. She was assisted by several teen “counselors in training” and by adults from the community who had talents to share.

Throughout the summer, participants enjoyed swimming lessons, a CSI (crime scene investigation) seminar led by retired Police Chief Don Volger, arts and crafts, balloon artistry juggling, trips to the Sisson Library Summer Reading activities, horsemanship, the July 4 carnival experience and local “walking distance” field trips. This was a great experience for the “counselors in training,” as they spent their days interacting with, and serving as mentors to, the younger children.

One such successful program leads to others, and the youth center will offer day camps during both upcoming holiday breaks. For three days next week, Nov. 23, 24 and 25, school-age kids 5 through 12 are invited to “Come and Play for a Day.” This program will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Participants will be able to attend one session, or all three. The fee of $30 for the full day is a real bargain, and does not totally cover the cost of the program. Participants are asked to bring their own brown bag lunch each day, but nutritional snacks, beverages and all supplies, materials, and activities are covered by the daily fee. Act fast on this one — the deadline is tomorrow — Friday, Nov. 20. For more information, call 264-5030.

Tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. guests of all ages will be treated to an evening of Beatles music. Those in attendance will be thrilled by the talents of local performers and all money from the “Tribute to The Beatles” will be split between the youth center and the Skaters Coalition for Concrete.

In December, Holiday Day Camp will be held Dec. 21-23 and Dec. 28-30 during the same hours and at the same daily fee as the Thanksgiving camp. For information and/or reservations, call the center at 264-5030. If you call outside of operating hours (Monday through Thursday 3-8 p.m. and Friday 2-9 p.m.) you can leave a message and your call will be returned.

Now – back to the teen programs! The Center will be open from 3-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 2-9 p.m. on Friday. During the week, programs and activities will be as varied as the interests of the teens. There are quiet rooms upstairs in which youngsters will be encouraged to finish their homework. The main gym floor is available for athletics. There is space for games, conversations, classes, and programs. Free snacks and beverages will be offered daily. A fully functional computer lab will be in place by the new year.

Beginning the second Friday in December and continuing until the end of March, skateboarders who have been driven inside because of winter weather will still have an opportunity to sharpen their skills. The gym floor has already been reserved for skateboard use between 2 and 9 p.m. each Friday.

Informative and innovative programs will be offered each week by a variety of teen advocate agencies from throughout the county. Several upcoming series are already planned. The Victims Assistance program will present “Brain-wise,” an in-depth examination of teen choice issues. The Pregnancy Support Group has been invited to present a 10-week course — Diamond Standards. Anna Royer, school community prevention coordinator, will create activities to support the school district’s prevention and sexual health curriculum. Violence protection, taught by Liz Parker of the Archuleta County Victims Assistance Program, will provide helpful information to the teens.

Center activities will not be confined by the four walls of the building. Local as well as extended trips are in the works. If you have ideas for, or would like to volunteer for, other activities, call the center.

Practical “life skills” classes will be offered. Teens interested in successful entry into the world of gainful employment can learn to write effective resumes and participate in mock job interviews.

Free meal service for those participating in center activities is in the works. Details will be available when funding is in place and plans are finalized.

Another grant-funded opportunity is the “incentive points program.” Teens can earn incentives when they participate in programs and activities at the center. They might, for example, earn center-sponsored trips or prizes through active participation.

Teens will partner with special interest groups at the center. They can buddy with Special Olympics and Destination Imagination team members. They can enjoy sharing expertise and interests with younger kids, and the younger ones will be able to see what they can look forward to when they turn 13 and are able to participate in the teen programs.

The possibilities for this endeavor are numerous— programs, events, volunteer and donation opportunities abound. This is a community project for the good of everyone in the community. To find out more, or to find out how you (teens and adult volunteers) can become involved, call the center at 264-5030. The Web site will be updated as programs begin. Visit the site at www.psyouthcenter.com. Everyone is invited to drop by and see what is happening and share in the excitement this new venture has generated.