Teen center looking for your help

Published on Thu, May 3, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Teen center looking for your help

By Meg Olson

“The idea behind it is simply put: connect, mentor and serve,” said organizer Ken Martin of a new youth center opening in downtown Blaine. “It’s a blending of these words and concepts. We want to get community kids together in a safe environment where they can be encouraged and have positive input.”

The Blender will make its home in the old Red Apple store on Peace Portal, and work is underway to transform the store into a hub for young Blaine residents.

Brown and Cole Stores, which has donated use of the building for three years, have paid to repair walls, windows and a leaking roof. Groups of high school students have cleaned, painted and brought in donated furniture after school.

When complete, the youth center will include lounge and study areas, games such as pool, ping pong and foosball. It will welcome high school students five days a week for special programs, one-on-one mentoring with adult volunteers or just to hang out.

The Blender will be open Wednesday through Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. “We’ll close for dinner because we want to encourage kids to be with their families,” Martin said. Friday and Saturdays the center will stay open until midnight and Saturday will open at noon. “On Sundays we’ll be closed, to set aside a time for family, going to church,” Martin said. Monday and Tuesday the center will be made available to other youth programs that deal with younger students.

Besides bringing young people together in a safe, supportive environment, Martin said a role of the Blender is to also get them more involved in the community. “Beyond preparing high school students to be part of the community in the future, we’re showing them they are part of the community now,” he said. “Nine times out of ten if you give youth a chance to do something they’ll come through. We’ll serve as a hub. We’ll have a volunteer board and talk with kids about getting involved.”

“They flourish when they’re challenged,” agreed Charles Gibson, director of the umbrella organization Whole Town Team that spawned the Blender project.

In a 1999 survey, 94 percent of Blaine high school students said they would use a youth center if one existed, 72 percent more than once a week. Students participating in Youth in Government Day at Blaine city council April 23 reaffirmed the desire of local youth to have a place to go. “Alcohol and drug abuse are a big problem at our school and I think that’s tied to there being nothing to do,” said Colin Hawkins, stepping into the role of city manager for the evening. The students listed the lack of activities for teens as a primary weakness of their community.

Martin said the center is ready to open as soon as they can build a disabled-accessible bathroom to conform to city and federal requirements. “It’s because the use is changing from retail to a community use,” said Gibson. “We’ll do what we can to keep the cost minimal and we’re looking to the community for donations of materials and labor.”

The bathroom is only one of several needs the Blender is now addressing in a fundraising drive: a salary for Martin to run the center up to 30 hours a week, insurance, and funds for special programs are also on the list. “We’re anxious to get it going,” Gibson said. “We have a window of opportunity here. We’re already into our three years agreement for the building, so we want to get it in use. We have a commitment from Ken Martin to stay one year to get this started. We need to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Fundraising has been focused on networking within the community, which has already secured a quarter of the funds needed to get the doors open, Martin said. “By the community stepping forward and funding this project, the community takes ownership of it,” he said. “After one or two years we’ll be in a better position to branch out and pursue grant funding.” Martin added that all donations to the Blender are tax-deductible.

Susan Cole of Brown and Cole Stores said their decision to donate the use of the building for the center was motivated by a desire to support community organizations that benefit families. “Having the building as a youth center is a wonderful use,” she said. “We are happy to be a small part of this by providing space for the center.”

Martin is working on a series of fundraising events when the center is open, including a concert series featuring local bands and a possible round the harbor triathlon next summer.

Starting small, the Blender is having a garage sale in the parking lot next to the center May 19, and is looking for donated items to sell. Donors can contact Martin at 332-5058 or klmartin @telecomplus.net.

“I’d like to encourage the people of Blaine to seriously consider how they can contribute and consider it an investment they just can’t lose with,” Martin said.

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