Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sandpoint Teen Center Provides After School Programs and an Opportunity to Serve the Community

In a world where teens struggle to fight off the temptations of peer pressure, there is one place in Sandpoint that has done all it can to provide a safe and secure environment where kids can go after school, interact with friends, and give back to the community.

The Sandpoint Teen Center is in its sixth year and for the first time has a paid part-time director, providing consistency for the kids who attend the center.

“We want to provide a place where they (teens) can socialize, but we still enforce respect,” said Sandpoint Teen Center board member Joan Avery. “And we need to respect them as much as we want them to respect us.”

Avery said fellow board member Dr. Gary Hopkins, an adjunct professor of public health at Loma Linda University, has performed research worldwide and his findings strongly confirm that teens have a much higher chance of avoiding drugs and alcohol not only if they have a caring adult in their lives, but also if they are given an opportunity to serve others.

Located just a few blocks from Sandpoint Middle School and Sandpoint High School, the center is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There is a full kitchen, foosball table, pingpong table, playing cards, board games, a Wii, and a place where kids can study.

“We are willing to provide whatever kids need,” said Avery.

Each Tuesday is community service day at the center. During the fall quarter director Andy L’Heureux took the kids to a nearby retirement community where they interacted with the residents.

“That has turned out to be a great thing,” L’Heureux said.

The teens are currently making decorations for the annual Kinderhaven Festival of Trees, a fundraiser whose profits go to the local group home for abused and neglected children. The students also plan to help with snow shoveling this winter and to work with the animal shelters.

From Dec. 11 through Dec. 17 the students will hold a gingerbread contest at Cedar Street Bridge in downtown Sandpoint. Open to the entire community, it will give the students another opportunity to be involved.

“One of the most important things is keeping the kids socializing with each other and the community,” L’Heureux said.

And the kids do love to socialize.

“It’s not necessarily quiet in here, but it’s fun and it’s manageable,” Avery said.

She said because kids come from different schools, they have formed some special friendships at the center, where staff does not allow use of cell phones or any other electronic device.

“It is building a community,” said board member Margareta Larson.

The staff and volunteers also invite members of the community to join the teens at the center and share their expertise.

“We bring people in to share skills with the kids because a child may connect with one of them and discover that’s what they want to do for a living,” said Avery.

Volunteers are critical and those who do it love the connection they make with the kids, even if they may be unsure at first.

“And the more volunteers we have the more kids we can reach,” said Avery.

“They (volunteers) need to understand that they don’t need to come every day. Maybe even start one to two times a month,” said Larson.

The mission statement says in part that they are committed to providing a safe, positive and enriching environment, but all agree that a safe place is what is more important than anything.

“They need a safe place where kids can come and know they’re not going to be bullied or offered drugs,” said Avery. “This is not a place for troubled kids.”

The volunteers and L’Heureux are enthusiastic about their work with the teens. They laugh as they share stories of different games and antics of the kids. They also are proud of the fact that the kids are giving back to the community of Sandpoint.

“Teens need to be shown how they can to contribute to and become a part of the community,” said Avery.

L’Heureux agrees. “We are building bridges between the generations.”

For more information

Contact the Sandpoint Teen Center at (208) 263-0221. The center is open Monday and Tuesday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. It is on the corner of Pine and Division streets

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