Free outdoor recreation fieldtrips in the summer, a place to hang out on school nights and a space where teens can just be themselves. This was West Yellowstone recreation director Katie Wilson's vision for a local teen center.
Wilson started actively collaborating with town officials and local teens to make her vision a reality two years ago. Wilson along with community members wanted to give teens the option of having a place to go to socialize and recreate.
"There are a lot of kids who are home alone after school in this town. They don't need to be constantly stimulated, but we want to reiterate that we created a place where they can come," Wilson said. "We care about the teens as a community."
Wilson provides different activities to all the ages groups in town as the recreation director.
"Part of my job is to reach each individual age group. The teen center is something I did for that age group (12 to 17)," she said.
The teen center, located on the bottom floor of the Povah Community Center, provides teens with Wi-Fi Internet, cable TV, a Wii gaming system, and miscellaneous games and arts and crafts activities. But, most importantly it provides a non-threatening environment where they can come and interact with other teens, according to Wilson.
The teen center volunteers along with Wilson will provide childcare for a teen, if they have a child, so that they can come to the center and just "be a teen" for a few hours, according to Wilson.
"The idea of the teen center represents that it's open and provides a great opportunity for teens. There are lots of great opportunities within the teen center," she said.
Made up of a hodge podge mix of furniture, newer technology like the Wii and classic tabletop air hockey and ping pong games, the teen center has something to stimulate everyone between the ages of 12 and 17.
Figuring out operational hours for the center, in order to be open when the teens are most likely come, hasn't been the easiest task.
The teen center was originally open on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the school year, but Wilson transferred the hours to Tuesday evenings this year.
"Tuesdays are more like an afterschool program where the teens can come and do their homework or receive tutoring. Fridays are reserved for age-specific special events," she said.
The teens can provide input to Wilson about what they'd like see happening at the center. Last year the center hosted a free Halloween costume party. The teens dressed up in silly costumes and even dared one another to drink a mystery concoction.
Wilson would like to see more teens come and utilize the facilities so more themed parties and events can be organized. Some teens have suggested holding fear factor or truth or dare-themed events.
"I want to hold a themed event each month. We plan on doing something towards the end of this month," Wilson said.
The special events will be divided into two different age groups, according to Wilson. One event will be for teens ages 12 to 15 and another event will be for teens ages 15 to 17.
Wilson can never guess the number of teens who will come to the center on any given week.
Anywhere between two or 15 teens will show up on average, according to Wilson. Some come to socialize, while others come for a quiet space to complete their homework.
Tuesday nights should workout better, to minimize scheduling conflicts with events at the school, according to Wilson.
The teen center also provides tutoring services, during their open hours, which are Tuesday afternoons and evenings from 4 to 7 p.m.
"I've talked to the PTA about possible tutoring services. It takes volunteers to run the teen center, though. We have about 15 folks signed up as a whole (to volunteer) and they help out whenever they can," Wilson said.
Wilson is working on being open consistently this year on Tuesday
evenings and so far it seems to be working out well.
The teen center was also open during the Yellowstone Ski Festival on Thursday and Friday evenings last week.
"We had about 35 teens show up, whether they were local or from out of town. Some of them would come in after they were done skiing to warm up," she said.
Planning, fundraising and organizing are constant processes for Wilson. She is always trying to come up with new and innovative ideas to either get more teens involved with the center, or fundraising ideas so that she can hold events for the teens.
Wilson and the teens have fundraised in the past to purchase some of the equipment and furniture at the center.
"We have sold food to pay for some of the stuff at the center. We sold trail mix, Rice Krispie treats, water and juice, but no soda," she said.
Some of the equipment at the teen center was purchased through grants from the West Yellowstone Foundation and others were purchased through the food sales.
Wilson would still like to see attendance numbers at the teen center increase on a weekly basis, even though the center seems to have a high attendance rate for a small community like West Yellowstone.
"At a conference I talked to someone about the attendance numbers for the teen center in Boise, Idaho. They see an average of 10 teens in their facility and they have 8,000 teens in that (12 to 17) age group," she said.
During the summer months Wilson had eight to nine teens show up for her outdoor field trips, which compares very well to the attendance numbers in Boise. West Yellowstone is a community of less than 1,200, according to information from the 2000 Census.
"We went on a kayaking trip. We went whitewater rafting and hosted a horseback riding trip," Wilson said.
All of the fieldtrips were free and donated or sponsored by businesses in West Yellowstone, according to Wilson.
In addition to adding summer field trips to the agenda this year, Wilson has also created a Facebook page for the teen center and a mass e-mail list to remind the teens what's going on at the center.
Wilson always encourages the teens to bring their friends.
"I would like to see more kids utilizing the center," Wilson said. "It takes them (the teens) awhile to warm up each year."
She wants to know what activities and special events the teens would like to see happening at the center and is open to any and all suggestions. They can stop by the center on Tuesday evenings to talk to Wilson about new ideas and just hang out and have fun.
"I even let them play their own music as long as there's no f-bombs (profanity)," Wilson said.
Wilson is always open to new suggestions for the center because she knows that teenagers are always changing.
"All of them are so different and dynamic. They're changing all the time and I'm so amazed at some of the things that stimulate them," she said.
Wilson can be reached by phone at (406) 640-1676 or via e-mail at email@example.com, with suggestions for the teen center.