Editor’s note: This is the second in a 10-part series looking at the agencies that were awarded grant funds by the SHARE Foundation as the first partners in the new Violence Intervention Plan. Each installment, which runs on Wednesdays and Sundays through the end of March, looks at a different agency, what was funded by the grant and how it will help address crime and violence in the community.
The Boys & Girls Club of El Dorado was awarded a SHARE Foundation grant to establish a “teen center” at its Wetherington Unit on East Center Street.
After submitting a project proposal, SHARE concluded that renovating the Wetherington Unit would promote its county Violence Intervention Plan (VIP).
“One significant area of concern was the increased incidence of violent crime,” the plan read.
According to El Dorado Police Department data, about 17 percent of arrests made last September were juvenile arrests, most of which were for disorderly conduct. The SHARE plan “is in response to this need that SHARE is working with community partners to develop (it).”
The VIP includes six priorities: Mentoring & Role Models, Re-Entry, Neighborhood Watches/Clean Neighborhoods, Parenting & Life Skills, Jobs & Targeted Education; and Mental Health, Substance & Drug Abuse.
Of the respondents included in the Center for Disease Control’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, over 21 percent said they carried a weapon and over 24 percent were in a physical fight.
At an awards ceremony held last month, Boys & Girls Club Director David Lee said, “We want to serve teens.”
“There was never an open rec place for teens,” said Operations Director Deneisa Jamerson.
The El Dorado School District’s TAC House, formerly known as the Teen Activity Center or Teen Club, used to host dances, socials and other events specifically for local teenagers. Though the building stationed near the Club’s Northwest Unit is in still in operation, it doesn’t function as it once did, Jamerson said.
ESD hosts professional development and houses athletic department offices in the TAC House, but the Boys & Girls Club “is able to use it when (it) has events” and other entities can rent the space. The Club’s executive director said he’s been in communication with district Superintendent Jim Tucker and Barton Junior High School Assistant Principal Mark Smith since last year.
“We have a lot of teens that we pick up from Barton. It’s kind of getting to where they’ve been with us for a long time. We’re expressed interest and they’ve expressed interest with us that they kind of want their own space,” he said.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America have started to open “centers that serve teens.” As it stands, the Wetherington Unit is “a big open space” that houses a cafeteria, stage with audio/video equipment, computer lab, gym and several small rooms. The rooms will likely be converted into office spaces, Lee said.
“We’ve got a facility. We just have to utilize it. It’ll be better suited for a teen center, so that’s what we decided to just go for it at the Wetherington Unit.”
Jamerson said the process has started with getting feedback from teenage members “on what they want to see in a teen center.”
“One of the major things is they want some chill space — spaces where they can be social (with) plug-in charging stations for their phones and tablets — kind of a hangout spot for them. They still expressed that they want tutoring to be available,” Jamerson said. “They don’t want to really want us to force them to go to classes like we do over here. They want more freedom in a nutshell.”
According to a study published by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV), teens have “more defined tastes and desires as well as” more freedom to make choices. As a result, organizations work harder to attract older participants to attend their afterschool programs, which can also improve graduation rates and the quality of the workforce.
Lee emphasized “job readiness” and said staff is working to ensure each member “has a plan” after graduating high school.
According to statistics compiled by the Child Welfare League of America, 85 percent of Arkansas students graduated high school on time by the end of the 2012-2013 school year, but only 30 percent of adults 25-34 years old had earned an associate’s or higher degrees from 2011 to 2013.
Two programs mentioned in the Club’s project proposal were Career Launch, a workforce development and mentorship program, and Money Matters, which teaches teens financial literacy, Jennifer Martisek said.
“What we’re going to do is have people come in for the teenagers and help them, whether it’s to learn how to budget or learn how to do a checkbook,” Martisek said. “Then also we’ll have people come in … meet with them and then if they’re interested, kind of mentor them one-on-one and do some job shadowing. We want as many different careers and different employers to come in and talk.”
Afterschool programs rely on three to five sources of funding. The biggest cost for a quality teen program was attributed to staff salaries, according to a study by P/PV.
“We are in the process of trying to look for a teen director. So we’re looking for someone who’s going to be upbeat, energetic, but probably at the same time they’re going to need to be a little even-keeled to deal with those hormonal teenagers,” Jamerson said.
For “added security,” the Club has started taking bids for fencing between buildings near the Wetherington unit because “there’s a walkway, but there isn’t a fenced in area they can clearly walk in and out.” It also plans to upgrade the unit’s current security system, which has video surveillance, Jamerson said.
Costs of quality afterschool and summer programs are driven by program directors’ choices, available resources and funding and local conditions. During the school year, the daily cost averages for a quality teen program was a reported $33 per participant, according to study published by P/PV.
The teen center should be open on the first day of the 2018-2019 school year. With the SHARE funds totaling to more than $25,000, the facility on East Center will get a “more grown up look” and provide a place for teens to destress and get the resources they need, Lee said.
Brittany Williams may be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.