Teens: 'We just want to hang out'

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

Teens who frequent the Teen Center on the top floor of the Kenai Recreation Center fear new managers will force them to comply to Boys and Girls Club rules and force them to join in Boys and Girls Club programs.

Until now, the rec center has been run by the city of Kenai, but due to budgetary issues, the city has asked the Boys and Girls Club to consider managing the center for the city.

"We just want to hang out" and "They're taking our center away" have become rallying cries of some of the teens.

On the other side of the issue, the Boys and Girls Club is saying it has no intention of changing anything at the rec center, if the city decides to have the club manage the operation.

"It's not our intent to structure the rec center," said Tina Marie Herford, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula. "The kids would still be allowed to just hang out. There will be expectations as far as behavior goes, but it'll still be a place to hang out and play pool."

Many of the teens who currently frequent the teen center say they have visited the Boys and Girls Club and don't like the structured environment.

The teens aren't interested in the Boys and Girls Club programs.

"I don't like sports and stuff," said Bridgett Middaugh, 15. "I just like doing my own thing. Here they won't stomp on us for runnin' around. There they don't take the time to listen to us."

Kayla Massera, 15, who has been coming to the teen center for three years, said she played soccer for the Boys and Girls Club and went to the club after school once, but "didn't like it at all."

"You're told what to do," Massera said. "Here (at the rec center) they accept us for who we are."

When they first heard of the proposed management change, several teens went to the Kenai Police Department to see what they could do to display their displeasure.

Police instructed them on peaceful protest measures and the kids solicited materials to make picket signs voicing their opinion.

"The kids were making signs at the rec center with materials donated by (Spenard Builders Supply) and myself," said Carol Brenckle, a Kenai attorney who works closely with Youth Court and other juvenile justice issues at the Kenai courthouse.

Then someone took the signs, according to Brenckle. She said the teens also circulated petitions at Kenai Central High School, but officials confiscated the petitions.

The issue over the signs turned out to be a misunderstanding about who owned the materials and the signs were given back. Also, a number of the petitions from the school were collected by the teens who presented them to members of the Kenai City Council reviewing the proposed change in management.

"Instead of putting us down, they should be encouraging us to stand up for what we believe," said Nikki Jeffrey, a 14-year-old who frequents the Teen Center at the city rec center. "They think kids should just be quiet."

"When they're in the facility they can do what they want as long as they follow the rules," Herford said.

She said the Boys and Girls Club focuses on character development among the youth it serves, such as exploring career opportunities, and it would be her hope that teens at the rec center would take an interest in such things.

Herford said the Boys and Girls Club would enforce certain posted rules, including a dress code that forbids wearing clothing that allows bellies to show or clothing with printed messages that are beer-, drug- or alcohol-related.

"Youth need to respect each other ... there are language issues. And Boys and Girls Club would enforce its dress code, which is modeled after the schools," Herford said.

The teens pointed to the 11 posted rules in the teen center, one of which requires teens to "be respectful and demonstrate courtesy to other patrons and staff."

Other rules forbid public displays of affection and prohibit playing unedited versions of popular CDs. The teens say the rules are enforced.

"The Boys and Girls Club staff is like baby-sitting," Middaugh said.

"We're not babies," she said. "I think the Boys and Girls Club is very good for younger kids."

Miranda Shelden, 15, agreed.

"At the Boys and Girls Club, they watch you every minute. Everybody has to be the same," Shelden said.

"Here they take the time to get to know us," Jeffrey said.

The teens say they like the way the center is run now. From Herford's perspective, things could be tightened up a bit.

"I think every kid is a great kid," she said. "The way it is right now, though, some parents won't let their kids go (to the rec center). I think it should be a facility that can be used by all kids."

If the issue remains in the city's budget proposal, a decision will be made by June.

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