Cambridge City Council hears about need for teen center

The possibility of a Cambridge teen center administered through Family Pathways was discussed during the Nov. 4 Cambridge City Council meeting.

Gary Hawkins, Cambridge Police Officer Jesse Peck, and students Mitchell Tillges and Kristopher Tasler appeared before the council members to hear their thoughts on bringing a teen center to Cambridge.

Hawkins, who also serves on the Cambridge-Isanti School Board, said he first thought about bringing a teen center to Cambridge when attending a school board association meeting in January where discussions took place on making a positive difference in the community and helping kids succeed.

Hawkins explained students were asked to brainstorm ideas for a Cambridge teen center during a community connections class at the Area Learning Center.

Bonita Carlson, director of Youth Services for Family Pathways, said the teen centers the organization has stay very busy, with a lot of different events and activities offered.

Family Pathways currently operates teen centers in Forest Lake, North Branch, Mora and Princeton through their youth services programs.

In 2012, 1,167 youth participated in youth services programming through Family Pathways. The four teen centers had 15,397 teen visits, and volunteers invested 4,498 hours helping youth build essential developmental assets at the teen centers, in the career development program and in Kids First and Circle of Friends mentoring programs.

Carlson explained the purpose of the teen centers is to provide out-of-school programming in a place where teens can interact with adult volunteers, peers and staff in group and individual activities designed to promote academic success, build social skills and increase their engagement with the community.

She said the Forest Lake and Princeton teen centers are located inside the Family Pathways thrift store buildings; the Mora Teen Center is housed in a free-standing building with a food shelf; and the North Branch Teen Center is housed in the front part of a food shelf building.

Carlson said there isn’t room for a Cambridge teen center in either the Family Pathways food shelf location or thrift store location in Cambridge. She noted all the teen centers have one full-time staff member as well as community volunteers.

Tillges, who will be graduating with his diploma from the Area Learning Center at the end of this month, explained he has lived in the Cambridge community since fourth grade.

“This teen center would be a place for teens to go and hang out, and I’d love to see this in Cambridge,” Tillges said. “The teen center would be geared toward high school age students and would have a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy.”

Tillges said students would be given a pin number to enter the teen center and would have to enter this number again when they leave so there could be a tracking system on who enters and leaves the building.

“I feel another part of this teen center would be to promote community service,” Tillges said. “We could host a family game night in the parking lot or help with the Cambridge Community Garden. We feel the teen center would be a fun place to hang out and do homework, but also encourage teens to give back to the community.”

Tasler explained he use to go to Somewhere Else, a teen center that closed its doors in June 2012 after serving the Cambridge community for 12 years.

“I was a freshman with not a lot of friends when my brother and sister had me go with them to Somewhere Else,” Tasler said. “I went there one time and was standing by myself when a kid asked me if I could help him with his homework. Now we’re best friends. I loved the atmosphere of Somewhere Else and it was a great way to make new friends.”

Tillges said the teen center would be a place for all to feel welcome.

“I think the teen center should be non-denominational, so all different religious affiliations would feel welcome,” Tillges said. “I also think it would promote ‘no bullying,’ as well as interpersonal relationships and the betterment of the community and the people who use the facility.”

Peck, who serves as a school resource officer, said with community support and backing by Family Pathways, he thinks a Cambridge teen center would be beneficial to the community.

Council Member Howard “Howie” Lewis praised the efforts of the group.

“In my mind, this isn’t about if we are going to open a teen center, but if we can get it open by May,” Lewis said. “In my mind, it’s not an ‘if,’ but a ‘when.’ We really need this to fill a void in the community.”

Lewis said between the different partnerships within the community with city councils, school boards, county boards, church organizations and community members, a teen center could happen.

The group said it would continue working on plans for a Cambridge teen center and would report back to the council in a few months. Lewis encouraged the group to come back to the council with a budget and building space needs.