The grand opening of the new Brookline Teen Center is this Sunday, September 15, from 2-5PM at 40 Aspinwall Avenue. The celebration will feature live music, food, activities and specials guests.
It took about eight years for the Brookline Teen Center to open its doors, and in that time Paul Epstein and a revolving cast of teenagers have been doing their homework. Epstein looked around town and saw a need for a place for teens to congregate safely after school. Without a JCC, Boys & Girls Club, or Y, the options were limited.
"Paul wanted teens to have a space where not only could they hang out safely, but where the learning could continue beyond the school day," said Matthew Cooney, BTC's Executive Director and a graduate of Brookline High School Class of '91.
From the outset, Epstein involved teens in the planning stage, surveying Brookline High School students who offered ideas for activities, programs, and even design elements. Groups of teens traveled around the commonwealth to find examples of other community centers after which to model the BTC. They looked at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Allston, Y programs around the state, and Zumix, an East Boston-based non-profit that uses music and the arts to help teens build a positive sense of self. The idea of housing a recording studio at the BTC came from the Zumix visit.
Teen interns worked with architects and used CAD to create a space that reflected their vision. Whether it was what color they should paint the walls, what sort of lighting they should use, or what type of furniture would look right in the center's industrial–style space, the Brookline Teen Center as it stands today is a reflection of its young members.
Cooney elaborated on the group effort. "I like to compare the BTC to Open Source software—someone builds a platform and shares it so other people can create apps." With the opening of the BTC, teens have a platform to make their ideas come to fruition.
And there has been no shortage of ideas. Teens brought in a break dancing instructor, a yoga teacher, and a Brazilian Martial Arts expert to pitch their talents. Before opening the center's café, teens studied up on health and food safety rules and regulations.
"About 150 teens were involved in creating the BTC," Cooney said, "That's a pretty good source of collective ideas. Teens in this community can feel like they have ownership of the center."
In addition to the recording studio, the Brookline Teen Center features a game room with a 110-inch screen TV for playing Xbox, a fitness space with personal trainer on duty, two lanes of candle pin bowling, an academic mezzanine with a classroom, conference room, and open project workspace, as well as the café that will serve healthy menu options like fresh fruit smoothies.
The principle challenge of opening a teen center in Brookline was raising the money to fund the project. According to Cooney, there is a tendency for Brookline residents to overlook the socio-economic diversity of their town.
"The worry is that kids are already over-programmed, but there are some teens who don't have anything going on after school, and what about Friday and Saturday nights? What are they doing and where can they safely go?"
The new teen center will serve other purposes beyond just warehousing 14-18 year olds. The diverse program offerings will be opportunities for teens to take on leadership roles. There is a Teen Advisory Board already in place and there are talks of hosting a leadership institute within the coming year. Teens will be encouraged to showcase their talents and lend their time and energy to volunteer projects in the community, after which time they'll report back to other members on what they discover. BTC members and staff will also advocate for the creation of more teen jobs in the community.
For parents who wonder what sort of safeguards have been put into place to protect their kids, they can rest assured that the BTC has their bases covered. Three full-time staff positions and many more part-time staffers have been hired. All have extensive experience working with kids, all have been CORI and DCF checked, and all have excellent references and work histories. There are also security cameras planted inside and outside of the building.
Looking toward the future, Cooney says that with more capital, they will be able to expand the BTC's offerings to include programming for middle-school kids. With 10,000 square feet of space, there's certainly room for expansion.
Community partnerships are and will continue to be a vital aspect of the BTC. "Brookline High is hosting a group of teens today. We're also partnering with the ATV to do some creative programming. The BHS football team will have a pre-game meal here and the Crew team is also coming. We're delighted to talk to anyone who has an idea for partnering with the BTC. People can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org."
~ By Jennifer Campaniolo