Youthful group advocates for teen center in Williston

Members say stressed-out kids need a place to relax

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston youths have banded together to push for a teen center that would provide space they can call their own.

A group of eight to nine teenagers has been meeting weekly since early December. Members say that while there are plenty of school-based organized activities, there is no place where they can just relax and hang out with kids their age.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Tianna Tomasi, 17, who founded the group and is the youngest member of the town’s Recreation Committee. “Kids don’t have any place to go at this point.”

Other group members said options are limited for those who don’t play sports and aren’t interested in other organized events.

Even for athletes, “sports are not 24-7,” said group member Jonathan Bateman, a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School who plays soccer and basketball. “During the down time, we’d like something else to do.”

The idea of having a teen center in Williston has been mentioned sporadically for many years, town officials said. They suggested a concerted effort by the group could move the idea toward reality.

“If the kids come to us with what seems like a legitimate proposal for a teen center, then we’ll do what we can to accommodate them,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons.

Last year the Old Brick Church hosted what could be considered an ad-hoc teen center. Ellie Beckett organized what was dubbed the Teen Lounge in the church’s basement. But the monthly event was discontinued because of a lack of interest and because no one was willing to take over organizing the event.

Beckett, now a CVU freshman, said the coffeehouse-style setup had limited appeal. She said a full-fledged teen center that offered more activities would be a better draw.

Tomasi said the group is still in the idea-gathering stage and so has yet to settle on specifics. Group members said the center could include a skate park, ping-pong tables, arcade games and a computer lab.

Also still to be decided is the location. The Selectboard last week appeared to rule out one possibility the group had discussed, the town-owned building housing Sweet Pea Gifts in Williston Village. The board, which did not mention using the facility as a teen center, voted to temporarily move Williston Fire Department offices to the location while the new public safety buildings are constructed.
Lyons noted that voters directed the town years ago to demolish the building to free up space on the town green. She said the building was “just not the ideal place” for a teen center.

Tomasi said she was undaunted by the board’s decision.

“It could be disappointing,” she said. “It depends on how you look at it. But I think it buys us time to get organized.”

She realizes the group faces a hurdle in finding space in an existing building or funding a new facility. “We wish big, but what it all comes down to in the end is money,” she said, adding that the group is looking at grants as an alternative to taxpayer funding.

Tomasi plans in coming weeks to survey students and parents to gauge support for a teen center and to gather opinions. The group will also visit the teen center in Essex this Thursday. She hopes to present a formal proposal to the Recreation Committee within the next four to six months.

Group member Ditra Backup, an eighth-grader at Williston Central School, said a teen center would provide respite from the hectic lives that kids lead these days.

“Everything is so scheduled, between extracurricular activities and school,” she said. “We need a place where we can just be kids.”

Youths interested in joining the teen center group or expressing their opinions about the idea are encouraged to call Tomasi at 878-4765.