2009-06-03 / Front Page

Programs cut

Teen center may close
By Elizabeth Billips lizbillips@yahoo.com

Randyshia Turner, Chelsey McCoy, Triana Skipper and Sharnette Skipper play an interactive dance game at Teen Scene. They say if the center closes, there won't be anything for youth to do this summer. Randyshia Turner, Chelsey McCoy, Triana Skipper and Sharnette Skipper play an interactive dance game at Teen Scene. They say if the center closes, there won't be anything for youth to do this summer. Burke County's sole teen center is on the verge of closing.

When federal funding for all abstinence-based education was slashed that included a $62,000 grant that's been footing the bills for Communities in School's Teen Scene on Davis Road.

CIS employees say if they can't raise money by July 31, they'll have to lock the doors.

"Comprehensive sex education is winning out over abstinence education," CIS Executive Director DeAndre Davis said. "The argument is that teenagers are continuing to have babies and that the focus should be on teaching them to use contraceptives and how to keep from getting STDs ... but the fact of the matter is that as a result of our abstinence programs, there are teenagers in Burke County who are not having sex and who have chosen to wait until they're married to do so."

CIS was already stretching that $62,000 grant. Besides salaries for staff and tutors, it was covering operating expenses to keep the center open to nearly 60 local teens after school and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer.

Davis believes closing the center will leave those kids with too much unsupervised time on their hands.

Tyrone Abrams thinks so too.

The 13-year-old has been hanging out at Teen Scene for the past year and says without it he'd either be stuck at home or in big trouble.

His friend, Chris Morrison, 14, says he was barely passing the seventh grade when he found the center three months ago. "Now I'm making B's," he said. "It's a good place for kids to get better at things they're not good at … for me it was reading."

While the boys shoot a game of pool, they talk about what summer would be without a place to hang out. Both live in housing projects and say their mothers keep them indoors because of the crime right outside their door steps.

"Shooting ... fighting ... gangs ... blowing up trashcans," they take turns ticking off. "Every single night."

Tyrone makes no bones about his life before the center.

"I was real, real bad - I used to be in the street," he said. "I started acting better because if you get suspended from school, you get suspended from the center too ... and I want to be here." "Yeah," Chris quipped as he banked a shot. "Who wants to go home and be stuck in the boring house all day?"

State Representative Gloria Frazier, a local CIS board member, says more stories like Chris' and Tyrone's will only be possible with local support.

"Volunteerism is one thing but it won't keep the center open," she said, noting the recession has already led to a teen center closing in Augusta. "It is critical to find local funding to keep this center open here in Waynesboro … the children don't have anywhere else to go."

Frazier says federal and state dollars are few and far between, and competition for grants has grown fierce. "There are no other pots to pull from," she said. "We have to be creative and come together as a community."

Triana Skipper is praying for just that.

You'd never know the out- spoken eighth-grader would hardly utter a word when she first started going to Teen Scene.

"Before I came here I was very shy," she said. "The interaction has been good for me … it's helped me make friends."

That could be an understatement. Staff members say the 14- year-old has grown so much confidence that she recently traveled to Washington, DC with a group of CIS teens and talked face-to-face with Congressman John Barrow about the importance of abstinence programs.

"Teens need to be informed about sex, and they need the right guidance to go the right way," she says as her 12-yearold sister and a circle of girls on beanbags nod in agreement.

All the girls have friends who are sexually active and classmates who are pregnant. They have each chosen to wait.

The girls kick off their shoes and move in a herd to the video dance game. When the song ends, the worry sets in. They say they'll be lost this summer if the teen center doesn't pull through. They also say boredom will brew into trouble for a lot of Teen Scene kids, and that grown-ups are fooling themselves if they don't expect it.

"With nothing for us to do, more kids will be getting in trouble," Triana says, motioning across the buzzing activity room.

"Uh huh," her sister Sharnette agrees. "Get ready. You're gonna start seeing more and more kids on the street."

WANT TO HELP?

To volunteer, make a donation or organize a fundraiser to keep Teen Scene afloat, stop by the CIS office at 229 East Sixth Street, Waynesboro, or call Deandre Davis at 706-554- 7213.

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