By Jessica King
If Ramona had its own “Little Engine That Could,” it just might be the Arriba Teen Center.
Located on Montecito Road at the former site of Ramona Community School, the teen center attracts an average of 25 to 30 teens each day that it’s open.
Its official hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, but unofficially it frequently stays open longer when teens request it. The center also serves as a host to special events and fundraisers throughout the year, such as movie nights and a Halloween haunted house.
Lead volunteer Kim Lasley, who has three daughters and sits on the Ramona Unified School District Board, is one of three adult volunteers who are regularly there to monitor the teens.
If there were more adults willing to donate their time to the center, the hours could be extended, said Lasley. If more do not, the center could close by the end of the summer.
“At one point, we were going to close in January but it’s hard,” said Lasley. “I don’t want to do
that and so we kept it open, and then we were going to close at the end of this month, but we talked to the kids and they really wanted it so we’re now going to stay open at least through the end of summer.
“After that, who knows, but we certainly would like to stay open and available to them.”
According to Lasley, the center needs about a half-dozen or so adults, preferably over 21, to volunteer on a regular basis.
“It doesn’t have to be every day,” she said. “Just something I can put on a schedule and a back-up so if this person can’t make it this day, there’s someone else to call.”
The center opened as a nonprofit in August 2009 and is open to students in grades 7 through 12. There is no cost to the teens to use the center, but before using it a parent or legal guardian must fill out paperwork so there are no misunderstandings.
“It’s not a babysitting service,” said Lasley. “People come and go as they please. We want to be very clear about that.”
According to Lasley, the center operates on a shoestring budget due to a generous lease agreement with the school district, which owns the property, and countless donations from businesses and families. The teens themselves also help by recycling to raise money for the center.
The center’s main room screams teenage hangout, with mismatched couches, “graffiti” on the walls, movie and music posters strung about, vending machines and a slew of game tables. Teens can play billiards, pingpong, foosball and air hockey, or utilize the gigantic big screen TV and iBox music system.
Just off the main room is a computer room, where teens can do homework, play games and go online.
In a nearby building, there’s a gym with about a dozen pieces of donated exercise equipment. There are also band rooms for teen rock bands in need of a space to practice and store their equipment.
“If we can pull it off, we may have a recording studio some day,” said Lasley.
Other teens with special interests in need of space to meet are encouraged to approach Lasley. Clubs or bands interested in fundraisers also may contact Lasley about possibly hosting one at the teen center.
The grounds surrounding the teen center are overgrown at the moment. Lasley said there are plans to help clean it up with other community groups because the space is intended to serve as a community park. Despite the weeds, there is still room for teenage skateboarders to utilize a few donated ramps that sit directly in front of the teen center’s front door.
“It’s like the kids say all the time, ‘where else we going to be – on the streets?’ That’s kind of the whole point, to give them something, somewhere to be that they want to be at,” said Lasley.
Meghan, 13, used the center for the first time last week and is excited to return.
“The place is really nice,” she said. “It’s going to be nice to have somewhere for us to go. I think it’s awesome and they should definitely keep this place going.”
Meghan learned about the center from her teacher at Olive Peirce Middle School, Laura Kitchen.
Kitchen is one of three regular adult volunteers at the center. During the school year, she sits and grades papers while the teens socialize.
“I’m basically just the eyes and ears making sure they’re treating each other right and being respectful of the center and not taking advantage,” said Kitchen. “I think it’s a great place and it’d be a shame if it weren’t here anymore.”
Added Lasley, “It’s just a matter of making sure nothing goes wrong, and the kids are good kids, and it’s fun, I think. It’s not hard at all.”
Donations of food, money and other items teens might like are also welcome.
To learn more about the Arriba Teen Center or to volunteer, stop by 1710 Montecito Road between 3 and 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. Center officials also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.