Council donates $100K towards teen center

By Savanna Gregg

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

At their regular meeting held Tuesday, May 14, Burnet City Council voted to donate $100,000 towards the YMCA of the Highland Lakes' proposed construction of a 2,500-3,000-square-foot addition to the facility for a teen center. Council voted to pay the $100,000 out over a 5-year period at $20,000 a year.

The proposed teen center will fill many needs for YMCA staff and members, and in a presentation to Council, YMCA Operations Director Jennifer Kenson and Board member David Bennett highlighted the resources the new center will bring to kids ages 10-18, who are currently limited in the amount of recreation they may receive at the facility due to age restrictions.

“We are super proud of the growth we have seen since we opened the 'Y' in 2013,” Bennett said. “We serve over 12,000 families annually and that is huge, but if you were to do a survey, one of the biggest needs is something for our children to do.”

For the past three years, YMCA staff and YMCA Board members began working with the idea of a program at the facility fitted to teenagers.

“Right now there is not a place for the 10-year-olds to high school kids to hang out,” Bennett said. “If there is a program going on in the gym, teens are stuck in the lobby and that is not the place they need to be hanging out.”

Teen centers are common throughout other YMCA facilities, and the Highland Lakes location wishes to bring these activities to the area. There are many programs that will be featured in the teen center, including the YMCA Achievers college readiness course, Midnight Basketball, Makers Space, in which teenagers are given opportunities to develop innovative and creative structures through LEGOs or robotics, and processing and sequencing programs. Another addition would be “Reach and Rise,” a program in which kids are paired up with a mentor to help them navigate through their teen years.

“'Reach and Rise' is kind of like a camper-counselor relationship at summer camp,” Bennett said. “When you walk away from summer camp and you have a mentor, you feel like you can go out and conquer anything; that is what we want to do at the YMCA.

“You have mentors that are 21 years or older who go through background checks and mentor the kids from 10 to high school, and it is only going to help them out in the long run,” Bennett added.

Bennett said the “Reach and Rise” program is recognized across the nation, stating that teenagers are 50% less likely to use drugs and alcohol, are five times more likely to graduate high school, and overall have higher confidence levels when they have the opportunity to work with a mentor.

“It is all about our kids in this community,” Bennett said. “Our mission is to serve 50 additional teens per day, prepare them for high school, and mentor those who need it.”

The teen center will have an open concept, with technology that students can move around however they need to in order to fit their needs.

“We will put iPads and other things like that in the room,” YMCA Operations Director Jennifer Kenson said. “Everything in the space will be movable and it will be a very wide, open space.

“That is the point of the teen center,” Kenson added. “That we should be able to transform the place at any given moment for any program.”

During the school year, the YMCA Teen Center will be open 2:45 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. During the summer months, the Teen Center will operate 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

After receiving two bids from different contractors, YMCA staff figured the addition would cost approximately $450,000 to complete, and in the past few years they have raised $190,000 through events and donations; the Williamson County branch agreed to contribute $50,000 for the project and with $100,000 donation from the City of Burnet, along with upcoming events, the YMCA of the Highland Lakes hopes to raise enough funds to begin work on the project this year.

One opportunity the community will have to contribute to the funding of the Teen Center is the upcoming Casino Night, scheduled for Saturday, June 15 at 6 p.m. at the YMCA, 1601 S. Water Street, Burnet. Tickets may be purchased at tickettailor.com, and those interested in sponsoring the event are asked to call 512-756-6180.

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