By Dylan Deprey
The excitement and energy bustling in the basement of the Mary Ryan Boys and Girls Club was infectious. Teens were grouped into teams and asked to create an online meme or gif that described their summer and how they felt about the new school year looming in the distance.
Teens scoured the internet for meme quality pictures and collaboratively worked to create the most “likeable” meme. The consensus…it was a pretty good summer, but not too many were thrilled about school starting.
Laughter echoed across the freshly painted walls of the newly renovated Teen center. From the quiet room conversations and spoken word poetry on the new stage, to gaming tournaments and summer job searches, the revamped teen center has been quickly put to use.
The $250,000 revamped teen center officially opened in June 2017, following the official re-opening of the Boys & Girls Club in February.
Before any renovations were made, HGA Architects met with teen club members to listen about ideas teens wanted in their teen center.
The new space is nearly double the size at 3,130 square feet, and along with new amenities like a computer lab, the original beige brick got a makeover with vibrant colors and geometric designs covering the walls.
Teens were also able to game both new and old school with Foosball and pool tables as well as a fully functional video gaming system. There were also spaces for teens to congregate and chill, whether it be reading a book in a bean bag chair or just having a conversation.
“I’m glad to see so many take advantage of the quiet room,” Jackson said. “It is enabling them to have conversation and dialogue without all of the interruptions.”
Jackson said over the past six-weeks attendance has doubled from 25 to 50 teens per day.
“I think the kids feel that the revamping and renovation of this space has allowed them more opportunity to express themselves,” Jackson said.
He also added that the growth in attendance was partially because a lot of the teens had younger siblings.
“Gives teens the chance to interact with their peers without having the sole responsibility for their siblings,” Jackson said. “This teen center gives them the opportunity to explore the unknown and ask ‘what is my interest?’”
Charlysse Baker (14) has been a Boys & Girls Club member for nearly 9 years, and said she was introduced to it through her older brother. She said she has grown a lot through the many programs over the year, especially now as a teenager.
“I wasn’t necessarily asking to be involved in things, and people started asking me to be part of things because they saw the potential in me,” Baker said.
Baker said her and many of the other teens were surprised by amenities like the Bluetooth surround system and TV lounge because they didn’t specifically ask for them, but they brought the teens together. She added that they could connect, and learn about each other by sharing their different tastes in music and entertainment.
The teens’ daily activities, like the meme/gif contest, were an example of how they were subject to introducing themselves to each other. Baker said during the activity she had met a member that she never knew went to the club.
She also noted that some kids think they have to be “cool” to go to the Boys & Girls Club, but that was not the case at all. She said teens and their teen coordinator, Donte Daughtry, were open for all conversations.
“If you bring up a conversation, we’ll have something to talk about and nobody is uncomfortable to talk about it,” Baker said. “If a shooting happened in the park, we’ll talk about it together or if yesterday me and my friend went somewhere, we can talk about it.”
Stopping through the new teen center with some words of advice, “Be yourself, come here and have fun.”