I’m writing a plug here for the Dixon Teen Center, which this month celebrates its second birthday. I’m a once-a-month volunteer there, so I’ve seen it evolve and grow.
It was quite a coup for Dixon to have people come together so well and so fast in 2010 and 2011 to turn a nebulous idea into a solid reality.
A big part of the success of the center was having a site for it at no cost. Fortunately the old high school along A Street was pretty much unoccupied, and the all-purpose room was available to use. Also, a nearby smaller room was available to turn into a computer room with Internet access. Over time, the adjacent gym has also been utilized. Out in back is an open-air plaza with a big tree (more utilized in the summer, of course) and bathrooms.
If you haven’t visited the center, what you’ll see when you walk in is a sign-in desk where teens and volunteers sign in for the day or evening. When teens sign in, they’re supposed to stay within the center until they sign out and leave. Frequently, parents drop their teens off and take a peek inside or talk with staff and volunteers before leaving again.
Beyond the desk, you’ll see a number of big-screen TVs where the teens can play video games or learn dance moves. Near the TVs is a snack area where a variety of snacks are sold – everything from sodas and waters to candies. This is also the area where free treats such as pizza are occasionally served.
In the middle of the all-purpose room is a large area where teens can try out their dance steps (some of the students are truly accomplished). On the edge of the area are some worn, large-pillow sofas and a few tables with chairs.
Then up in the former stage area are pool tables, a ping pong table and a couple foosball tables. And a piano.
Out in the computer room are around 12 Internet-connected computers along with a microwave and a kitchen area where feasts are sometimes served (a Holiday feast with turkey and side dishes was served in December).
And then, of course, the teens themselves. They seem equally divided between girls and guys, and the way things have sorted themselves out over the two years, the crowd has been primarily of middle-school age (to use the center, one needs to be in the age range of seventh grade through the senior year of high school).
It goes without saying that no alcohol or illegal drugs are permitted, and no one would be admitted who was obviously under the influence.
I volunteered because I realized that at my age (69) I had very little contact with the youth of Dixon and I wanted to change that. Also, as a retiree, I now had more time to volunteer for a good cause. My wife, who has spent her entire career in private-school education (both elementary and high school) speculated on how well I would manage being around this age group, and I guess she’s been surprised that I survived! I’m not the type who learns every teen’s name there and is an easy buddy around them, but I have played pool and ping pong with them, and man the snack table from time to time. Mainly I just circulate and keep roughhousing and running at a minimum, and ensure that no one is being bullied. I tone down conversations where cuss (and worse) words are being prominently used. I help sometimes with cleaning up (sweeping the leaves up in the plaza area has been a great contribution to my home compost pile!). Sometimes I sit at the front desk and make sure the kids sing in and out, or I’ll sit in the computer room and make sure things are civilized in there. During the holiday feast I sliced up the turkey for the food line. Music is usually being played (if it gets too loud I use my ear plugs!).
If there’s one thing I’ve learned being around the teens, it’s that they as a group are pretty fine individuals, worthy of trust. I am totally impressed with their energy levels, and how quickly they can “read” us adults. Some are content to sit quietly and play video games, and others are ricocheting off everyone else in the space, establishing those relationships and friendships which will lead them into high school and beyond.
There are always other volunteers to talk with (one of them, Jerry Castanon, Sr. was just elected to the city council and Nick Watney’s father shares duties sometimes).
A number of people from Dixon’s religious community are involved in the center.
Currently, the Teen Center is open almost every Friday and Saturday night from 6 to 11 p.m., often offering fun activities and contests. Typically, 75 teens are in attendance. Recently, an after-school program was established, opening from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday (2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday). It offers teens (20-25 of them lately) a quiet place to do homework and socialize.
Last year, the Teen Center was the lucky recipient of a $60,000 donation thanks to Dixon’s pro golfer, Nick Watney, as a result of his team’s winning the PGA President’s Cup in Australia. This largesse has been used to pay for staff salaries and other expenses. The center also receives donations from individuals, service organizations and companies, and holds fundraising events. Recent equipment acquisitions have been a closed-circuit TV monitoring system and a better sound amplifier.
The staff of the center includes site manager Brian Thiessen, program director Jamie Myers, and two assistants, Heather LeBleu and Abe Castillo. I’m really impressed with Brian and Heather – they are the people I most work with when I’m volunteering.
The center’s path is set by a board of seven local volunteers, led by president Kay Cayler, who meet once a month. They come from businesses like Recology, from the religious community, from the police department, and so on.
In the Teen Center’s future, look for an increasing number of workshops, classes and personal advancement possibilities. Workshops offered during the after-school program will cover cooking, personal finance, CPR, billiard math (whatever that is!), books that have been turned into movies, and a boys-becoming-men-themed group. Classes may be offered covering computers and photography.
I asked Program Director Jamie Myers what kind of feedback she’s gotten from the teens’ parents. “(They) appreciate the Teen center for giving their kids a sale alternative to entertainment on the weekends at no cost,” she replied. “It prevents their teens from roaming around town or getting into trouble. Parents of teens who attend the after-school program like the fact that their students are getting homework done after school and have been offered incentives to do so. Some parents have requested specific tutoring or homework help – which we provide free to all – and at times they have given us special instructions on how to work with their teen.”
Currently, the center has about 25 active volunteers who work as often as they wish, and schedules are very flexible (it’s important, though, that once you agree to come, that you show up!). To volunteer, contact the center via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DixonTeenCenter, or via phone at 707-676-5106. If you’re thinking about volunteering, you’re welcome to stop by, check things out and talk to staff and volunteers during open hours. Get to know the youth of our community and other volunteers.
Also please check out the center’s Web site at www.dixonteens.com.
Donations are always welcome. For example, a donation of $2,000 will buy a needed “smart board” or five iPads for educational workshops. $50 will buy a video game, workshop or art supplies, or promotional materials.
It will be fun in future years to see new seventh-graders arrive and use the center, see them grow in social skills (and height) and move on out into high school. Dixon can be proud of this continuing haven.