ARLINGTON – It’s 8 o’ clock on a Friday night in the teen center at the Arlington Boys and Girls Club, and the kids are chilling with their peeps.
Among 50 teens, some are belting out karaoke to pounding music under strobing dance club lights, others sit in funky lounge chairs chowing down on free pizza and drinking soda, while teams of sociable gamesters are playing Roblox “prison break” or “fashion show” with their own simulated characters, territorially glued to every Xbox console and computer station.
Since the teen center opened six months ago, word has been spreading that teens and their friends are cool enough to be here.
“It’s been going great,” Teen Director Kristina Helland said, adding there are usually 50 kids and she hopes to double that.
Teen Nights for ages 12-17 runs 6-10 p.m. excluding some holidays like Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving. Activities vary depending on the wisdom of the crowd, but there is generally music, a busy deejay station, free food and snacks, raffle prizes – big bags of kettle corn or gift cards like at the Halloween Night Bash, gaming tournaments, billiards and other fun.
The reaction Helland gets from first-timers – teens and parents – never gets old. “I can tell the teens are talking about the teen room. I’ll ask them how they like it, and they’ll say, ‘This is so awesome. We had no idea this is here.’”
Getting the word out takes time, but Helland puts in long hours to not only rave about Teen Nights, but to remind people that the teen center is open daily. That includes access to the gym, and even the occasional field trip. All in all, the teen program is a parent’s answer to a safe, positive place for after-school activities.
“Teens need somewhere to hang out besides home, that they can get together with friends, like a third place, to socialize,” she said.
A lot of parents want to know what kind of youth show up on Teen Nights. “They’re all great kids. The kind who want to get in trouble aren’t hanging out at a Boys and Girls Club, for sure.”
After school and during drop-in hours of 3-6 p.m., the teen center expands on its features with a monthly calendar of activities. There’s Movie Mondays, trivia nights, books and board games, dodgeball, Pictionary challenge, origami workshops and Xbox tournaments. Homework assistance is also available for the studious.
Families on tight budgets will be pleased to know that membership is only $15, half of what an annual membership costs. That gives unlimited access to all the youth features thatc lub offers.
Helland said most participants are 12- and 13-year-olds, but she is making a push to get older teens involved, touting the benefits of Teen Nights and the gym, which is open from 3:30-6:30 p.m. daily. The teen center averages 17 kids after school each day.
The activities aren’t just limited to the teen center. The gym is also open for boys and girls basketball and volleyball, depending on interest. Sometimes, kids stop by to check out the teen center on bicycles or skateboards from the Skate Park at next-door Quake Field.
For everyone else, transportation getting to and from the club can be a challenge for some families, due in part to its distance away from Arlington, as well as Smokey Point.
The club currently transports students by bus or van after school from Post, Haller and Lakewood middle schools, as well as Lakewood High School. That can be helpful for working parents on half days and teacher conference days. Check with the club for fees. Hellend said the club hopes to reach a point where there is no charge for middle school transport, and possibly even some designated pickup locations downtown.
Local businesses have come through to support Teen Nights and the club, Helland said. Pizza Factory is helping with discounts on pizza. “We’ve got hungry teens to feed,” she said.
Game Stop has also come throug, Helland said. She dropped by the Smokey Point store with old video games better suited for a thrift store. When she explained who she was, store managers paid $300 to help out. She walked away with new remotes and remarks that they would love to host gaming tournaments.
Helland is committed to getting the word out about the teen center, even if it means handing out flyers in a downpour in downtown Arlington. She stopped by every business with flyers for the teen center’s Halloween Bash.
She’s also using social media, and the city has helped her announce some events. For details, call 360-435-4442.