“Keep calm and trust God,” is one of the signs that hangs in the recreation room of a new teen center, complete with a pool table, ping pong, air hockey game and big screen television.
The new teen center is called the Red Zone, named for the new red building that houses it at Grace Baptist Church on Burnt Plains Road.
There are other places where teens can congregate, like the mall. But the mall experience is much different than what can be found here, one member said.
“I see so many kids well networked, but few that have real relationships,” said Frank Peters, youth director at Grace Baptist Church and a math teacher at Foran High School. “The center can help build good face to face relationships.”
The teen center is a 3,000-square-foot building, consisting of two floors. The main floor has the pool table, ping pong and air hockey, along with vending machines, television, two computers, XBox, and a kitchen.
Upstairs is a 72-inch big screen television and a room sizable enough to be used as an oversized living room or a meeting room.
“I picture maybe an open mic night-type event,” Peters said. “We want it to be something that draws in kids from the community.”
Outside, there are woods and a good sized fire pit, plenty of open space for playing football or other games, said Joey Mixie, site director for the teen center.
Joey is a sophomore at Liberty University, home for the summer, and he’s clearly excited about overseeing a center that gives teens a place to hang out. The center is designed for grades 6 to 12, and it’s open to all teens, regardless of religion or church affiliation.
Pastor Joe Mixie, Joey’s father and the pastor at Grace Baptist Church, would like to open up the center for other city churches to get involved with, such as offering volunteer adult supervision. That’s a little down the road, however, as the center only opened two weeks ago and programming and other details are still being created.
“This doesn’t just have to be a Grace Baptist Church thing,” Pastor Joe said.
The center is open six days a week at varying times. A schedule is on the church website at gbcmilford.com. The church youth group meets ever Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the center, and area teens are welcome to drop in.
Joey said that since the center opened during the World Cup, it offered a great place for teens to gather in front of the big screen television, settle on the new comfy sofa and just hang out and watch. He envisions lots of time spent like that here: Some people watching sports or other television programs, others listening to music, talking, playing board games or whatever.
“I’ve usually got music playing, and there’s just plenty going on,” Joey said. “We tried to think of everything.
“It’s a safe, no cost place for teens to come to,” Joey said, adding that teens who come will be asked to sign in and to give their emergency contact, but that’s it.
The site where the new Red Zone now stands is where the church’s log cabin used to be. That was dismantled and given away because it wasn’t really fit for use anymore. It had been built by church members in 1921, Joey said.
With $400,000, more than a bit of city red tape, and the services of Baybrook Remodelers, the new, high tech building was constructed after a couple of years of planning. Pastor Joe said there was some fundraising for the building, and church donations, plus a mortgage to make the center a reality.
He said the church has always been committed to serving youth, and that’s one reason the members supported building the teen center.
Joey agreed. “We wanted to give back to the community,” he said.
Laurel McCarson from Orange is one of the adult volunteers at the center, and she was at the center last week with her daughter.
“The best thing about this is that it has open hours,” McCarson said. “Kids can pick and choose when they want to come. It’s a great place for them to get together in a safe and supervised environment.”
Emma McCarson, 12, was playing XBox with Riley Ocasio, 11, at the center last week. “It’s a great place to come and hang out when you’re bored,” she said.
Makenzie McDonald, a Foran High School student, said she likes that there is now a place to bring local teens together, and that the center has appealing amenities.
Boys & Girls Club
There also is a teen center at the West Shore Recreation building next to Simon Lake School, run by the Boys & Girls Club of Milford. While it is not free, as the Grace Baptist center is, the cost is low: $50 per year, and there are scholarships for teens who cannot afford the cost.
Boys & Girls Club Director Megan Altomare said the teen center has existed since May 13, and it offers a game room, gym and programs. The teen center is open from 2 to 8 p.m. during the school year, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the summer. Some of those hours may be increased if need dictates expansion, Altomare said.
The addition of another teen center at Grace Baptist Church is good news, Altomare added.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “The more we can offer the kids the better. I think we have over 10,000 kids in Milford.”