As John Brown entered Soldotna City Hall Thursday night to take part in a meeting regarding the possibility of building a local teen center — he had no idea what he was getting in to.
But after an hour of sitting across the table from Mayor Peter Micciche, Police Chief John Lucking, Soldotna City Council member Brenda Hartman and passionate residents and youth, the Soldotna High School junior was convinced the project was something he could get behind.
“If you’re able to go to a place where you can have fun, relax, hang out with friends and be yourself and do the things you want to do — I think it’s a good way to relive stress,” Brown said. “Because school can sometimes be a stressful time.”
Soldotna community members and officials are exploring what it would take to create a teen center in Soldotna. The center would provide a safe place for teens to go after school or on the weekends. Still in the preliminary phase, there are many details that need to be hammered out before the center could come to fruition. The second committee meeting took place Thursday, with more meetings planned in the coming weeks as the process picks up steam.
Brown found out about the meeting Thursday at school from his classmate, senior Owen Phillips. Brown belongs to the school’s National Honor Society, where Phillips is the president.
“I thought it would be a cool project to take on,” Brown said. “It sounds fun, and it sounds like it’d be entertaining and would be cool to do.”
For Phillips, 18, being a part of the Teen Center preliminary steering committee, is one of the many hats he wears.
President of SoHi’s National Honor Society and a member of student government since his sophomore year, Phillips has had plenty of practice getting things done. A teen center, he said, could provide kids a place to go instead of them going to someone’s house or a coffee shop to hang out, a place for dances, tutoring, competitions in billiards or ping-pong among other possibilities.
“You know, typical teenage activities,” Phillips said.
But the most important part to Phillips is that other youth get involved and feel a sense of ownership of the center.
“Oh that was really cool when (we) went on Friday and we (watched) a movie or whatever,” he said, citing what he thinks the typical reaction would be, adding “And then say, ‘Oh, we should help out to keep it going.’”
The youth’s ownership in the possible center is something Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said is paramount for the center to exist.
“This is for them, it’s about them,” Micciche said. “Before we ask the community if they’re interested in supporting the facility — if it’s going to occur, we need to know the youth of Soldotna is going to be invested.”
Having Brown and Phillips involved from the very beginning will give the steering committee a perspective that not many adults seek when starting a project like this, Micciche said.
“It will certainly give us the inside scoop on what they would like to see,” Micciche said. “Coupled with our expectations for a safe facility that’s well-run by qualified individuals.”
The teen center preliminary steering committee is not the first time Micciche and Phillips have worked together.
“It’s refreshing working with Owen,” Micciche said. “What I like about (him) is that he’s not shy about how he honestly feels and he’s not shy to go out and survey other youth that may not be exactly like him or have his exact opinion.
“I think he brings a lot to the table.”
Phillips said his experience as president of the SoHi NHS has given him the tools to excel within the project. He was in charge of running the blood drive at SoHi, so he knows what is expected of completing a task.
“So if Mayor Micciche says, ‘OK Owen, this is what you need to do, this is how you do need to get it done,’” Phillips said. “I know the ways to go about getting it done.”
Phillips and Brown belong to the center’s preliminary steering committee, which has been meeting to gather information on where the center could be located and what costs would take the center to be operational.
After the information is gathered, and it is apparent what is needed to run the center, a formal committee will be formed made up of educators, various organizations, law enforcement and young people, Micciche said.
“I think the community will buy in and help support and sustain a teen center,” he said. “This is more or less a pilot project to demonstrate to community the benefits of having a safe place for young people to hang out.”
Being an Eagle Scout, Brown feels a sense of pride when he talks about his involvement with the teen center.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that I’m contributing to the community and helping,” he said. “Because the community has given so much to me, it’s good knowing I can give something back.”