The Amity Teen Center mission is to (1) provide a community anchor for teens where they may socialize and participate in recreational and educational activities in a safe environment, (2) offer after school programs to stimulate creativity, enhance self esteem, and develop social and educational skills, and (3) present multicultural programs to foster appreciation of our increasingly diverse community.
The Amity Teen Center, Inc. (ATC) a 501(c)(3) organization was founded in 1987 due to the growing awareness that teens are an extremely at-risk population. In the Amity school district, comprised of the towns Bethany Woodbridge and Orange, the concerns were heightened due to: (1) budget cuts in after school programs, (2) a teen population from three very different communities: suburban Woodbridge, country Bethany, and urban Orange, and (3) a lack of a place where teens would want to go to be with their friends, and where parents and caretakers would know their children were safe. Too many parties had little or no supervision, and religious and community programs for teens did not fill the void.
The actual catalyst for action came in 1986 as the result of two tragedies: a party in Woodbridge that went out of control, leaving one teen beaten to death, and another incident in which a carload of area teens died, when their car drove into a reservoir.
Shortly after those two tragedies, the First Selectmen of Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge (BOW) came together and formed the Amity Teen Center, Inc.
The following year, in 1987, the Town of Orange donated the use of a town owned building for the ATC. The Center, called “Club 355”, grew in popularity filling the building to capacity (105) on band nights with teens left waiting outside to come in. Unfortunately, our teens lost their club in 1996 when the Town of Orange demolished the building to build a new firehouse.
From 1996 until September 2006, ATC programs rotated among public buildings in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge on a space available basis. This lack of a permanent location not only took away a “sense of one’s own place” for teens, it also decreased the frequency and consistency of activities. In addition, because the space was shared, it was impossible to provide more than one venue at a given time, and any equipment for programs, such as sound systems for dances, needed to be stored and transported each time. It also made it impossible to develop the community action, peer mentoring and leadership programs that are essential components of a successful teen center.
During this time the three Amity First Selectmen set-up a 15 member tri-town Collaborative Committee that included representatives from various youth services, parents’ groups, school administrators, and one member of the Board of Selectmen from each Town. The Collaborative Committee embarked on a two year Needs Assessment Study, which concluded there was an immediate need for a place available to teens on a regular basis.
This need has also been evidenced on a National level. In various studies from 1999-2006, starting with a Columbia University Study, Dr. Suniya Luthar demonstrated that suburban teens are two to three times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and far more likely to use alcohol and drugs than their inner-city peers.
After a long, difficult search, a suitable building for a teen center was identified. A huge volunteer effort involving teens and adults from all sectors of the tri-town area provided manpower for demolition and remodeling, in-kind goods and services, and fundraising. In September of 2006 the ATC opened in an 8,000 sq. ft. building in Woodbridge that was formerly a bowling alley. Today’s ATC has ample space for all its programs, including space for teen art exhibits, plays and concerts, and room to play video games, pool, foosball, air hockey, ping-pong or board games, have dances, or “chill” (relax) with friends. Extra space has been remodeled into rental space, with all proceeds used to defray ATC operating costs.
I first became involved with the Amity Teen Center in 1995, when the Teen Center was about to lose the use of its town-owned building in Orange. My then 15-year old daughter had been going to the Teen Center programs every week and she and her friends were devastated to learn that the building was going to be torn down. She was the one who volunteered me to get involved. My only experience was that I was the mother of four children; two of whom were in college at the time. I realized how important a Teen Center was to the young people of the community and I have been involved ever since then.
We are all so proud of our Teen Center building, which opened in 2006. We are able to provide so many activities for the teens. Our biggest challenge continues to be raising funds for programs. Having our own permanent space gives us the opportunity to offer so much to the teens. We ask them what programs they would like, because their opinions count for so much. They need to know that their wishes and ideas are being taken seriously.
In the setting of the Teen Center the young people are socializing with each other. They are developing "people skills." Some teens had previously spent most of their spare time at home on their computers and therefore had little contact with others outside of school. At the Teen Center they have made friends, learned to socialize and to help each other. Teens who are involved in music and the arts finally have a venue in which to perform or share their talents with their peers in a social setting.
The teens of today will be the adults of the future. At the Amity Teen Center they have many opportunities to volunteer to help others less fortunate in their community. This teaches them compassion and prepares them to be the volunteers of tomorrow.
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