Hey, teens! Westside resource center invites more participants

       Marie Parker is looking for a few good Westside teen-agers. Well, maybe more than a few.
       She runs the city's Teen Self-Sufficiency Program (TSP), which has one of its two resource centers at the West Intergenerational Center, 25 N. 20th St.
       The free program offers teens helping hands in a variety of areas, including education (GED assistance, tutoring and college planning), employment, volunteer opportunities and, if needed, parenting skills. The resource center at West also has a computer lab, a rec room and a video library. Staff is on hand weekdays or nights. Referrals are offered for mental and physical health, substance abuse or food or money needs. To participate, teens just need to drop by the center or call Parker at 444-5211.
       This is the fifth year of the program, which is funded through a partnership including the city, county and School District 11. The other teen resource center is the Deerfield Center on the east side.
       Parker frankly admits that the program has been noticeably more popular at Deerfield. In a recent interview, she asked a reporter for ideas on how to attract teens to the West Center. The situation was dramatized the same week when a scheduled “Low Ropes Course” - a team-building endeavor that had been publicized heavily at neighboring West Middle School - drew just one person. The course had to be canceled.
       TSP records show that 500 to 600 teens are served annually at the West Center, but Parker said that most of these are kids from other parts of town that come to West for functions. The biggest such event each year at West is TSP's annual holiday party (for which Parker and her husband provide the turkeys) that has attracted more than 400 people.
       “We just don't get the Westside kids,” Parker said. She recalled a promotional effort last year, in which TSP gave Wal-Mart gift cards to 15 kids in exchange for participating. But this year none of those teens returned. “You would think they'd come back,” she said.
       Parker's concern is accentuated by the belief that there are teens who could use some help on the Westside. This is not unrealistic in an area where most of the schools qualify for Title 1 status - basically meaning that more than half their students come from families below the poverty line.
       E.D. Rucker, the four-year director of the West Center, has identified similar issues regarding youth apathy for his programs. Last year, for example, the center tried to form a teen committee to help plan youth events for the year ahead. There was no response, and the committee never formed. “The Westside is different,” he's been heard to say, although he's also said he wouldn't live anywhere else if he ever moved from his current locale.
       Joe Torres, principal of West, lauded the center and TSP for providing “excellent supervision” on their programs. But he agreed that, for his school, “participation is not at an all-time high.” Part of the reason, he suggested, is that key Teen Center programs - such as those relating to career planning or parenting - typically apply to kids older than middle-school age. There are also issues of transportation and of competition with other area youth activities, he said.
       Torres doesn't claim to understand the Westside phenomenon entirely. “It's hard to predict what the kids will want to do,” he said. “It's no small task for Marie to have an impact on the community, oftentimes.”
       Parker is not sitting on her hands regarding the apathy issue. She said she is looking hard at how the TSP has been marketed to the Westside. “I think the marketing has been old stuffy stuff,” she said. “We're going to get kids to design it for us.”
       She just needs to find them.

Westside Pioneer article