Sun, Dec. 15

Teen Center popularity prompts need for more adult volunteers

Rodney Echols signs up to be a volunteer with Teen Center volunteer coordinator Andrea Fierro on Thursday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Rodney Echols signs up to be a volunteer with Teen Center volunteer coordinator Andrea Fierro on Thursday. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

COTTONWOOD -- Allan and Cherie Marx are asking people to check their calendar and set aside a day or two once a month to volunteer at the Verde Valley Teen Center. The couple and other board members have become the backbone of the fledging operation. But their goal is to the keep the center open six days a week, not just Thursday, Friday and Saturday as it is now.

If you haven't seen it yet, the Teen Center is built in a former fire station, with two large garage doors that open to show off the operation. There is a pool table, ping pong, foosball, several computers, books, wide screen TV and more.

It doesn't really take much time and Allan says the kids always want to help out.

"'What can I do to help,' they are always asking. One of our kids never learned to play football and he was always sitting by himself. So we showed him how to hold the ball and throw it and suddenly other kids are joining in to help him learn. Now he's running around with them just like the other kids."

"We have had a couple kids that were in trouble, on probation and stuff and they just want to talk to somebody."

He said 90 percent of the kids come from the middle school because it's right across the street, but others come from all over town.

Allan and Cherie had 5 kids of their own, but they are all grown, now. They have 18 grandchildren.

"When we first opened the center, they formed their own little groups, now they are one big homogenous group. Now, they say 'hi' to each other in school and are watching out for each other. It is a new environment for all of us."

"I find it amazing to watch these kids transform; they just want others to listen and talk to. If they got a problem, they can talk to us or just 'vent' to us."

"They are kids, and like teenagers, they are just kind of lost, trying to find their way. They know we have rules here and they have to follow the rules and there are consequences if they don't. Like one of the kids stood on the basketball hoop and broke it."

"The kids like coming here," Cherie says, "but one thing that is misunderstood among some parents: we don't have the authority to make them stay. If folks drop their kids off, they can play here, but we don't have authority to make them stay. Anytime the parents want to check on their kids, call or drop in, they are welcome to do that. We had one situation with a very young kid, not even a teen yet. His parents dropped him off and went off to do things."

The Teen Center will average about 40-45 kids on Friday and Saturday nights. Some stay right up to closing. Some parents will pick up their kids when they get off work. It just varies say the Marx'.

Hours are 3-9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 3-7 p.m. on Thursday night. So, if people want to come in and work a three-hour shift that would help.

Andrea Fiero works as the only office staffer. She works five days a week but is returning to school soon, so her term ends Feb 21. She is paid by NACOG, the Northern Arizona Council of Governments. Now the Teen Center is looking for a replacement when Andrea leaves. It is mostly light office work, scheduling volunteers and answering phones. Applicants may seek employment through NACOG.

The Teen Center has an application for each of the kids that includes contact information for their parents.

When the kids arrive in the afternoon, they sign in and they get a free ticket for a snack and a drink. "If they are volunteering, we might give them an extra ticket," says Cherie. They write their name on the back of the ticket and once a month the Teen Center does a drawing for a gift certificate at Taco Bell or Subway or something like that. If they volunteer, they get extra tickets to go in the bucket for the drawing. "They get really excited about winning."

The tickets are good for a snack, like a burrito or Ramen noodles and water. The refrigerator is locked and opened only once every half hour. If they have used their tickets, they can buy another for 50-cents.

"The kids are usually starved when they arrive," they say.

"We have kids that walk in and ask 'what can I do.' They see this place like it is their own. They pitch in and they will help do dishes, they will check kids in."

The board is all volunteer and everything is donated.

"The community has really stepped forward," Allan says. "The only person here is paid by NACOG, so we don't even have that expense."

Our goal is to be open Monday through Saturday to offer other opportunities, a one on one meeting place for cooking classes and other things that the kids want. It takes three people on any given shift to cover the three zones, the rooms inside and outside.

"We monitor it to make sure it is a neutral and safe place."

"They asked for a Valentine's Day Dance, so we organized that Saturday night. Yavapai Fence agreed to put up a temporary fence so we can open up one of the doors and have more occupancy space outside. WalMart has provided a gift card for paper plates and that kind of thing.

"When we first started the concept, everyone wanted to volunteer," Allan notes. "That has fallen off, but we have more kids and hours to fill." And they would also like to expand the hours.

Kids are not charged anything to attend. Allan says, "We know that it will be good for the kids in the long run."

"They feel like it's their clubhouse, where they can go and just hang and not be judged. But, they know, that if someone spills a drink someone has to clean it up."

Allan is hoping to get a donation of a soda machine. He says people will donate a case of water or peanut butter and jelly or Ramen noodles."

ow we have about seven volunteers and four board members, so we are struggling for manpower All we are asking is people one day a month, Friday and Saturday

Our goal is 7th grade through high school seniors in high school

The teen center has computers and wi-fi, so they can do homework and study if they want. There is ink, paper and crayons.

"We try to be very resourceful. We have a few bills, electricity and telephone. Some folks can't donate their times, so we have a form about donating, so if they want to donate by the month or by the year, they can mail donations here. One person donated the equivalent of $100 per month and wrote a check for $1200 and sent it, so we have the resources to pay our insurance and things like that."

They estimate at a minimum it costs about $1200 a month to operate everything."

"We have an email list," says Cherie "And we have a volunteer meeting on the 4th Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Teen Center to discuss what we are doing.

If people want to know what the teen center is all about, they can stop by and check it out. The first thing they do is give the visitor a tour. One woman told us, "I heard there were dark corners and drug use. I am going back and telling my friend, they were dead wrong."

If they want to come in and take a test drive. They are looking for kids, teens to volunteer too.

A couple kids come in from the high school. They are required to put in some hours community service in order to graduation and we can clock their hours.

"Jackie and Joaquin, Todd and PJ are our main helpers. They will sign kids in and give them their food and drink tickets. They definitely join in. It is definitely about them."

Tim Bramblett and a girl are now out of school, but became involved through the Verde Baptist Church.

"We fingerprint everyone and DPS does a background check for us for $5.Once they are cleared through DPS they can be scheduled for hours. Folks with the school system already have a fingerprint card.

While we were talking, Joni Westcott dropped by and turned in her volunteer application.

"We tell volunteers to just 'keep it busy', no holding hands, watch the language." He says, they have never had to call police. Officers and firemen both stop in and hang out with the kids and play games from time to time.

But our talk is cut short when the kids begin pouring through the doors, signing in and chatting and laughing back and forth.

"What do you like to do," I ask.

"Everything really! I like to hang out with the basketball, shoot hoops and do some art. We have wi-fi." says one girl.

Jackie, another youth volunteer, comes Thursday and Friday, "and sometimes Saturday. I help clean up, help get snacks ready to come out, I sweep, check in."

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