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Members of the Boys & Girls Club’s new Teen Center celebrated the facility’s grand opening yesterday, giving tours to the public and showing off their new amenities.

The Teen Center has been in the works since January, when the Boys & Girls Club received $26,225 from the SHARE Foundation as part of the latter’s Violence Intervention Plan. Since then, they have received several additional grants to go towards the Teen Center.

Teen Center Director Larry Yarbrough said he thinks the new facility turned out great, adding that all the support from the community, financial and otherwise, has been a great help in their success.

“We have kids that let it be known that they love it here. … One particular mom picks her boys up here [and] she has to make them leave,” he said. “So that’s a good thing.”

Throughout the night, teen members wore lanyards that read “Ask me for a tour,” and showed visitors the different amenities offered at the Teen Center. There is a computer room with about 10 computers and three printers for the children to utilize for homework, research or just surfing the web.

Last night, several students from Barton Junior High School could be found hanging out in the computer lab. Ahmad Young gave tours while his brother, Michael, worked on homework; Jacoby Matthews watched YouTube videos with headphones while Raniecia Cheatham, K’abria Carey and Kristin Williams talked and surfed the web.

“We have more freedom,” Cheatham said when asked what she liked about the Teen Center. “We had to stay with the little kids all the time [at the Northwest Unit Youth Center],” she continued.

“We don’t have to go to specific places to play on our phones,” Williams added.

The facility also has an art room for students as well as the quintessential game room found at all Boys & Girls Clubs. Children can play pool, foosball, air hockey, arcade basketball or video games, as well as just hang out in the spacious game room. There is a large stage for any speakers the Center hosts or other activities.

One room serves as a sort of gentleman’s lounge. All the young men at the Teen Center are members of the Gentleman’s Club, an organization that seeks to build young men’s characters and teach them life lessons.

“I like it and it helps me learn more about life,” Ahmad Young said about the Gentleman’s Club.

Yarbrough said the Gentleman’s Club spent time this week picking up trash in the community.

“It’s character and leadership training,” Yarbrough said.

Camilla Benton, another employee at the Teen Center, said there are also several programs for the young women to participate in. She said she and another employee each lead groups and the young women can choose which they’d like to go to.

Benton’s group is called FF4L: Female Forces 4 Life. She said she goes over homework with the girls and then opens the floor for discussion. She said her girls have expressed interest in learning about some heavy topics, including bullying, child abuse and sex trafficking prevention and that she was planning to bring in speakers that are knowledgeable about those subjects to teach the girls about them.

“That’s what they want to talk about,” she said. “It’s reality. We want our kids to know [how to stay safe].”

The other group for the young women of the Teen Center is called Sophisticated Ladies. They have similar focuses, Benton said. She said she has really enjoyed working at the Teen Center and has loved getting to know the children and working with them.

“I don’t consider myself as a mentor, but if I can help them I want to,” Benton said. “If we can help just one child, that’s what we want. … It might not sound like a lot, but it is.”

Boys & Girls Club Executive Director David Lee said he was excited to see the Teen Center finally open. He said membership has grown steadily since it opened on the first day of school this year. He said he hopes the Center will be able to help prepare the teen members for adulthood.

“I hope that what we do is produce a bunch of young people ready for the workforce,” Lee said.

He said they have plans to implement several job readiness activities such as college tours, meetings with local business leaders and job shadowing. The Teen Center has also partnered with South Arkansas Community College. Timothy Johnson, SouthArk’s Carl Perkins Coordinator, will come to the Center once a week to talk to the children about college and its alternatives.

“He’ll talk about the things SouthArk offers like welding and nursing, things that won’t take them four or five years to get a degree [in],” Yarbrough said.

The Teen Center will continue to grow and change as membership goes up and the facility expands. Currently, membership at the Teen Center is free. Students in seventh grade or higher may join.

Debbie Watts, SHARE Foundation Vice President of Community Impact, said she was very pleased with the way the Teen Center turned out.

“They have rejuvenated and brightened it up,” she said. “You can tell by the kids’ faces [they like it].”

She said the children have their own stake in the Center since they contributed with ‘sweat equity.’ Lee said children from the Boys & Girls Club summer camp helped in the remodeling process.

“They have a sense of ownership too,” Yarbrough said. “They can take responsibility because we challenge them to keep this clean. This is their place.”

Watts said children can transition from 13 to adulthood at the Teen Center.

“It’s a great stepping stone for these kids,” she said.

The Teen Center is located at what was formerly called the Wetherington Unit at 1401 E. Center St.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or

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