The Jefferson Teen Center’s history dates back to 1992, years before most of its current patrons were born. Now, the center is preparing to close its doors Jan. 12. And 12-year-old Laighla Rodriquez is one of the youths who has no idea what she’ll do once it’s gone.
Rodriquez started coming to the teen center, which is housed in a portable behind Chimacum High School, a couple of weeks after she began sixth grade last fall. She said it’s already become an essential part of her schedule.
“When I come here, I can play games and hang out with my best friends,” Rodriquez said. “Without it, I’d probably just go home, only I don’t have anyplace to do homework when I’m at home, and I wouldn’t be able to hang out with my friends except when I’m at school.”
Although the teen center has been able to cover its annual expenses through a combination of individual and group contributors, director Terri Murphy Naughton said, nearly all those sources are being called upon to contribute to more causes, with fewer funds of their own to do so.
With an average of 20-30 students coming through its doors each week, and an estimated total of 350 kids served each year, Naughton would love to expand the numbers of both employees and board members, but with salaries making up $19,000 of $28,800 for the teen center’s annual expenses, she’s been grateful for the help she’s been able to get.
Rodriquez doesn’t know anything about budget numbers, but she’s far from alone in hoping the teen center can stay open somehow.
“Kids get more work done here, and have more fun here, than anywhere else,” Rodriquez said. “We really like it here. The people are nice, and they have strict rules, which helps a lot. It’s a fun space, but it’s also a safe space.”
Fellow sixth-grader Jay Van Otten, 11, expects he’ll be paying more visits to Jefferson County Library, both for studying and for socializing with friends, but he insists it won’t be the same experience.
Like Rodriquez, Van Otten was introduced to the teen center by a friend a few months ago, and he’s quick to extol the virtues of its entertainment options, from a PlayStation to the pool and foosball tables, as well as its healthy snacks and beverages.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere else,” Van Otten said. “If you need people to talk to, they’re here for you. Plus, it teaches you things, like how to share. We take turns on the PlayStation, so when one of us wipes out, we pass the controller to the next person.”
“These kids will tell our staff things they might not tell school officials,” Naughton said. “This is an important resource for the Tri-Area, because Chimacum historically has difficulty getting funding for things like this. It’s not a prosperous area.”
THE WELL RUNS DRY
Naughton has been with the teen center since its inception in downtown Port Hadlock, in what she laughingly admits was “a less than desirable location” next to a tavern.
She attributed at least part of the program’s growth to its 2005 move to a half-size portable unit on the Chimacum school campus, followed by an upgrade to a full-size portable unit in 2010.
Naughton and two part-time employees staff the teen center, while a board of four members oversees its operations.
“We’re always looking for volunteers who can relate well to kids, though,” Naughton said.
The teen center’s other annual expenses include $2,500 in food, $4,000 in rent, $2,800 in operating costs and $500 for fundraising.
Naughton explained that the teen center had previously been able to rely upon annual revenues of $30,000, with $12,000 coming from United Good Neighbors, $14,000 from foundations and $4,000 coming in the form of individual contributions.
Naughton noted that diminished resources and increased demand from others has left United Good Neighbors with only $5,000 to give to the teen center, while foundation contributions have narrowed slightly to $10,000.
GRATEFUL TO PARTNERS
“There’s only three foundations left for us to apply to, and like everyone, they have less to give right now,” Naughton said. “You don’t want to keep going to the same wells over and over again, or they’ll run dry.”
Even as she’s facing the closure of the teen center Jan. 12, Naughton expressed her gratitude to all the many program partners that have made it possible over the years.
“I remember when the old Chimacum superintendent encouraged us to move out here,” Naughton said.
“Because of everyone’s efforts, we’ve had kids who visited us in the 1990s who have come back to tell us how the teen center benefited them, and in some cases, even saved their lives.”