Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sandpoint Teen Center finds new home

Staff Writer | July 9, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Some came a couple of times a week.

Some came every day.

However, when the Sandpoint Teen Center found itself in search of a permanent home, the teens who relied on the facility found themselves without a place to go.

That will soon change as STC officials announced they had found a new location — and plans to reopen the center as soon as this fall.

Located in the former Mountain Lake Dentistry building, 1323 Michigan, the building is right across the street from Sandpoint high school and middle school.

"All year, we've just been combing the neighborhood, talking to the churches and talking to everybody we can possibly think of," Sandpoint Teen Center board president Joan Avery said. "It kept coming back to this place. Finally, we said, 'OK, we're going to take this on.'"

While the location is great, the facility needs to be remodeled from the ground up. While it will involve a lot of work — from plumbing to drywall to painting, STC staff said the site offers the ideal location. It also offers the teen center to give teams from a hangout space to an after-school basketball court to a game room and a full-service kitchen that will allow STC to relaunch its culinary program.

In exchange for the renovations, the center gets a five-year lease at a reduced rate, Avery said.

To make the renovations happen — and make the facility a reality — Avery said the teen center needs the community's help. The biggest, and most immediate needs, are materials and labor "just to make it happen," she said.

"We're just going to be praying and talking to the whole community and trying to get that awareness that we really need help to make this happen," Avery said. "We want to try and get it open as far as soon as possible. It's already July so for us to be open in September would be a total miracle. But hopefully, [we'll be open] before the snow flies."

The front room, which is a fairly large space, will be renovated as a game room and as a hangout space with couches, chairs and tables. A full kitchen will allow the center to relaunch its culinary program.

Avery also envisions a covered outside area where teens can play basketball and be active year-round.

When the center was at the bowling alley, the teens were able to play tag and dodgeball and "just move" in a large, open gym space.

"That was the year we saw the fewest cellphones out because they had activities and were busy," Avery said. "They came out of school after sitting all day and they needed a place to just move."

Avery said it's hard to know how much renovations will cost. Some of that will depend on donations and community efforts. The STC board is working on getting estimates and is hoping to hear from local contractors willing to help with labor and materials.

All donations are welcome — from financial support to building supplies to volunteer labor in making the renovations a reality.

When the facility is not in use as a teen center, Avery said they've been advised they can rent the space out for activities or meetings.

The center dates back to 2004 when it opened in an old Seventh-day Adventist Church building at the corner of Pine and Division. Located in the open upstairs room, the teens had room to hang out and learn to cook. It didn't take long for the center to grow from a handful of students to several dozen a day thanks to its location near the schools — and a robust offering of programs.

Students could try their hand at art, learn to cook, and could hang out with friends. They were safe and warm. Volunteers taught everything from financial management to welding to basic handyman skills.

"The teen center can be seen as meals, movement and mentorship," Avery said. "You know, if you feed them first, they're happy. And if you ask them what kind of food they want, they're even happier."

Then, the students realize the center offers a safe place to be active, and get advice or help when their parents are at work.

"It means safety and security for our kids after school," Aver said. "It means having someone they can talk to, relate to; having one positive adult relationship in the kid's life can change their whole life. And we really believe that."

Before it hit the pause button last year, Avery said the teen center saw an average of 50 to 70 kids a day, who came to hang out, have a snack, and study. In total, there are 500-600 youth enrolled in the center's programs, with an estimated 6,400 teen visits during the 2021-'22 school year — the last full year the center had its own facility

"They come two to three times a week, some come every day, and some come once a month or once a week, depending on their schedules," Avery said.

A former teacher, Avery taught primary grades; she had no interest in middle or high school. Then she started volunteering at the teen center and got to hang out with the youth.

"When I saw how vulnerable these kids are, and they were fun," she said.

That, Avery added, was when she realized she loved working with the kids and helping mentor them.

She hasn't looked back.

Helping the teens is also why the center's grant writer, Kate Mansur got involved.

"Teen mentoring through the relationships our staff and volunteers build with our teens is important because studies say that it takes just one important relationship in a teen's life to decrease their risk of suicide, addiction, and school drop-out," Mansur said.

With youth even more vulnerable today than ever before, Avery said places like the teen center are more important than ever. Both parents often have to work to make ends meet, leaving kids at home alone or on the streets.

"Kids go to other kids houses, where somebody might have alcohol, somebody has drugs, nobody knows what's going on," she said. "Parents don't know where their kids are. So just to get the kids are safe and supersized place where they can be warm and protected and fed until there's some kind of supervision at home is critical."

Rules are set and enforced. Teens are expected to be respectful to others at the facility and to the staff. There's no swearing and no fighting. Any violation of the rules means the teens can be kicked out.

"We always give a second chance and you can come back again tomorrow, but you're gone today," Avery said.

One youth who'd gotten into trouble had straightened his life out; one of the first places he came back to was the teen center. When they found out he'd yet to be enrolled in school, STC staff go the paperwork and helped the family out.

"It was cool to know that they would come to us," Avery said.

Another kid who kept to herself was pulled out of her shell through a card game. When they learned she loved to cook, they began teaching her simple recipes. It wasn't long before the youth became a supervisor and was teaching other kids how to cook as well.

Avery said she loves running into former teen center participants, some of whom have their own kids; seeing their successes and how much they've grown over the years.

"It's just wonderful," she added. "Knowing that they've made some good choices and hoping that we were part of that."

Information: Sandpoint Teen Center, sandpointteencenter.com; email, sandpointteencenter@yahoo.com; or Joan Avery, 208-946-1087



The Sandpoint Teen Center is seeking the community's help to completely renovate its new facility, located across the street from Sandpoint Middle School and Sandpoint High School.

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