About 30 years ago, I knew this kid. He was a good kid. Active in sports, got relatively good grades, very respectful of adults, fairly popular, actually kinda quiet. No, actually really quiet. However, in his own quiet way he was pretty independent too. He liked to let his hair get a little too long; he wore T-shirts with messages that didn't meet everyone's approval; oh yeah, and he sometimes hung out with the "wrong crowd." Still, all in all, he was a good kid with a good heart.
I remember this kid sitting in the back seat of his buddy's old Volvo. He didn't have a license yet, so he'd take off walking, you know, just to get out of the house. A lot of kids like to get out.
Usually one of his older licensed, friends would see him wandering down the street and give him a ride. That's when the "fun" began. You know, the drinking and partying. It was funny as hell, because he was so quiet, but when he'd drink, he'd get all crazy and goofy and stuff.
Looking back at it now, I realize we were all just bored. At that time there wasn't anything else to do in Kenai. A couple of years later, I remember the same kid, driving around, hanging out in the Carrs grocery parking lot with a beer lodged comfortably between his legs and a case in the back seat. Usually he'd be with friends, but, sometimes he was alone. Bored.
I've stayed close to this kid for his entire life. He's about to turn 44 now and you know what? He's still a good guy. He still loves to participate in sports, is a very responsible worker, treats others with respect and he's still got a good heart. It's too bad he made life so much harder on himself than he had to.
You see all that "fun" became a lifestyle for him. Being bored was easy, and his choices on handling that boredom were very poor. Oh, it'll work out OK for him. He'll get his license back in another four years, and he's all done with his jail time. His ongoing recovery in his battle with alcoholism has given him a wonderful new outlook on life. He's been blessed with a second chance. However, the seeds that were planted when he was 14 or 15 years of age helped put him through turmoil he never dreamed he would have to go through.
You know, when all this talk of the Boys and Girls Club taking over the rec center in Kenai began, my first reactions were very selfish. My wallyball was in jeopardy. The Boys and Girls Club doesn't care about me. Where does the city get off taking a building paid for by my tax money and giving it to a huge national organization? Look at all these other places in the budget that need trimming. If fact, let me see that budget, where did all this other "nonessential" spending come from? A skateboard park gets funding from a special athletics fund, but we haven't got enough to support the center? What is, the average per capita spending on ...?
That's when I remembered that kid. Sitting in the back of his friend's car, letting himself be impressed with all the wrong things, because there was nothing else to do. I can't say things would've been any different for him if he would've had a facility like the rec center to hang out in.
I can say I'd rather give my kid that opportunity. See, I know for a fact that he wouldn't have joined the Boys and Girls Club. Not because it's a bad organization, but more because he wasn't a joiner. He liked to think of himself as a rebel.
I know this for a fact because I am that kid, and I'm worried because there is some of that kid in my own 13-year-old daughter. I can't guarantee that the rec center will work wonders for anyone. However, I'd much rather have my daughter hang out at a chaperoned dance at the rec center on Friday night than drive around trying to create fun in the back seat of an older friend's car. And, given the choice of joining a club with dress codes and censored music, I'm afraid she may end up in that car.
Simple has become very important to me, and the most important argument for keeping our recreation center in the tax payers' hands is very simple. It's the kids. It's what the center was really built for.
Our kids now have a choice of places to hang out. The Boys and Girls Club is a fantastic organization, and I appreciate everything it does for our community and for communities all over this country. However, it's not for everyone. Let's see if we can't find another solution to this dilemma.
I don't know what's nonessential in most folks' eyes, but I know helping even a few kids avoid the mistakes I made is certainly worth a few extra bucks to me.
Wade Morgan, Kenai
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