Paul Hamilton sees the teen years as the most influential time of a child’s life. “People think, ‘They’re teens they can do their own thing now.’ But it is the most influential time, especially in a young teen’s life where you can turn them [from] good to bad,” he says. “We need to invest more.”
So Hamilton, who is the president of the Charles Houston Advisory Council, along with the center’s Teen Advisory Council, staff and other community members made a space specifically for the teens of Alexandria to not only hang out, but engage with the community and foster their own creativity.
In mid-November, the Charles Houston Recreation Center opened the teen center, which offers a space specifically for teens ages 12 to 18. Through a $25,000 grant from the city, $50,000 in cash donations and pro bono work from Rebuilding Together Alexandria, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, Cooper Carry, CFR Engineering, DPR Construction and more, the teen center offers a space filled with couches, TVs, gaming consoles, music equipment and more. Additionally, area businesses are starting to partner with the center to bring in programs that will be vetted by the teen council and staff, something Avery Watkins, the recreation center manager, says will be worked on in the beginning of the year.
Since the opening, Watkins says he has already seen an influx of teens coming into the center. And that if they continue with the philosophy of letting the teens have a voice in what they want for the center, “the place will continue to bustle and grow.”
The initial vision of the center came from Sheila Whiting, the former manager of the center who retired just days after the teen center’s opening. The area for which it serves is one that has high-density housing, about 40 percent of which is subsidized, and little open space. She saw the teen demographic as one that was being forgotten with the amenities the center was offering.
“The capital project is key to the start of this,” says Hamilton, “but that doesn’t determine the ultimate success. The ultimate success is can we engage these teens and change their view of the world with what their opportunities are. That is the long-term success.”