Worth the Wait: Teens Transform Center to Room of Their Own

By SIMONE McCARTHY

The banter of ping-pong paddles and the whirring of foosballs mingled with exuberant shouts and groans from the teenagers playing and watching the games.

Others clutched sodas and munched on pizza and cupcakes while swaying in tune with the music or conversing energetically on a big, squishy couch.

Island teenagers left no doubt Saturday night that the new teen center which opened up in the Cottagers Corner building in Oak Bluffs was the place to be.

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Despite the rain and snow, some 70 teens showed up for the premiere night of the YMCA-sponsored center, out-striping all expectations.

"I wasn't sure if a lot of kids knew we were opening, so when the first 10 people showed up I was really excited because I thought that was a good turnout," said regional high school junior Quinn Retmier.

"And then another 20 came, and from there people just kept pouring in," he added.

Mr. Retmier is one of the 13 Island students who joined forces under the YMCA youth initiative council, calling themselves the Supporting League of Ideas and Projects (the SLIP) and taking on a sizable challenge.

Made up of students from both the regional high school and the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, they have been meeting and planning since last spring.

"We have had to work so hard and move over so many roadblocks with finding a building and getting funding, but now that it is here it feels really, really good," said Ed Cisek, member of the SLIP council and a sophomore at the regional high school.

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"I am so excited and everyone who is here seems to be, too," he said.

Indeed, like a warm sun after the long winter, the teen center has arrived. Teens who flocked to the center on Saturday night eagerly embraced it as the antidote to an age-old complaint.

"There used to be nothing to do [on the Island] except go to the movies or to a friend's house, and now there is this, and it is so cool. I am planning on coming back a lot, because there is so much here," said Maureen Fitzpatrick, regional high school sophomore.

Strings of lights ran along the ceiling inside the center. Upstairs, in a larger room, teens lounged on the floor, surrounded by art supplies, or else piled onto the couches and bean-bag chairs bordering the big-screen television. Music videos flashed on the screen, but most were too absorbed in the fast paced 10-person games of Egyptian poker or the antics of friends to pay it much attention.

Jenn Barry, also a sophomore, said, "I have been literally waiting my whole life for there to be something to do on Martha's Vineyard, for there to just be somewhere to go, and now there finally is, and this is so great."

Energy was high as teens arrived throughout Saturday night to meet friends and evaluate the new scene. Most soon found themselves acclimating to the different dynamics inside - an energetic downstairs games area versus the more low-key upstairs with computers and television.

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Steve Premda, an adult volunteer at the center, was excited by how easily the teenagers adapted.

"Kids just came in and felt comfortable right away," he said. "It was great because our goal is to make [them] feel a part of this place and feel like it belongs to them."

The SLIP had done its work well. The foosball, ping-pong and pool tables they were able to purchase through donations were in constant use throughout the night.

Mitchell Moreis, a senior at the regional high school, was riveted by the foosball competition, even if he wasn't thrilled with the outcome of his endeavors, calling for a rematch.

"I can't believe it," he said, "My friend, who has never done anything athletic in his life, beat me 10-3."

The SLIP has numerous plans for additions and improvements, including pool and ping-pong tournaments, scheduled movies, Playstation 2, and so-called lock-ins, where teens can stay the entire night.

Since the teen center hours are limited to 2 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, 2 to 11 p.m. on Friday, 4 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, the SLIP is also interested in inviting school clubs to use the facilities during the week.

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Teen center director Eric Adams, when looking toward the future of the center, said, "I think we have finally been able to provide teens with a safe and sober environment and an alternative to hanging around friends' houses or driving around. I am very enthusiastic about what the teen center will mean for the Island's teens."

Many teens found the positive social atmosphere of the teen center a welcome relief.

"This place feels really friendly and laid back," said Amanda Cavanaugh, a freshman at the regional high school. "It's not the kind of place where you need to be worried about having an enemy in the other room or even just being too loud for your parents. You can just hang out."

"I was expecting the teen center to attract more of a younger crowd of high school students," said regional high school junior Abbey Stone. "But that definitely wasn't the case. There were people of all grades there, and we all mixed. It was actually a lot of seniors and juniors who stayed the longest."

Gazette correspondent Simone McCarthy is a junior at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.