Sunday, November 6, 2016

Arch Street Teen Center, 25 Years Old and Going Strong!

The Arch Street Teen Center, located at 100 Arch Street in Greenwich, is said to be the longest-running, privately funded center for teens in the United States. In order to record the history and accomplishments of this organization, Greenwich Oral History Project interviewer, Renee Lux, conducted interviews with some of the center’s key members and supporters, all with important stories to share, some going back to the organization’s founding. It is fitting to focus on these interviews since the teen center will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary,  November, 2016.

It is important to recognize that there are many community members who have been instrumental in the center’s success, who have given time and great effort. We focus here on four who represent what it takes to make a teen center a success.

Judith A. Donahue, one of the four narrators interviewed, was there from the beginning. She told our OHP interviewer that a friend had recruited her in 1985 to give six months of her time to a feasibility study for a teen center in town. Six years later, after much involvement, the feasibility of a drug-free, alcohol-free center where teens could successfully gather for fun and camaraderie became a reality. (OHP interview: Judith A. Donahue, “The Arch Street Teen Center,” October 7, 2014.)

Equally important and instrumental in seeing the teen center flourish was State Senator, L. Scott Frantz, whose interest in the center began early on, after the death of his younger brother, Chris, an early advocate of a safe place for teens to gather. After his death in an aviation accident at age twenty-two, Senator Frantz’s mother, Ann Haebler Frantz, took up the cause, but when she too died, in1988, the Senator was the sole family member left to see his brother’s dream become a reality. (OHP interview: Senator L. Scott Frantz, “The Arch Street Teen Center,” October 1, 2014.)
State Senator, L. Scott Frantz

While Ms. Donahue and State Senator Frantz are key figures representing the commitment and work it took to make the Arch Street Teen Center the vibrant success it is today, one of the narrators interviewed is on the frontlines daily, Executive Director, Kyle Silver, who has been at the organization’s helm since 1997, six years after the official opening, when Mr. Silver was still a student at the University of North Carolina.

A big part of Mr. Silver’s job is providing programs and events inspiring enough to tear teens away from social media and to bring them into the Arch Street location and into the community for service projects, as with Neighbor-to-Neighbor, for which the center won a student organization of the year award. Then there are the weekend evening events drawing hundreds of students and the conference events bringing in celebrities and well-known public figures to speak on important topics from careers to the environment.

Less in the public eye but equally important are the routine day-to-day operational duties, keeping the budget in line, growing attendance while securing safety and maintaining a drug and alcohol free environment at events. Additionally, there is the challenge of communications, so important to maintaining support for the center’s existence.  

Taken together, the challenges are enormous, and yet the Greenwich Center has become a template around the country for those communities who would like a teen center of their own lasting longer than a year or two. When Ms. Lux asked Mr. Silver about Arch Street’s success, his answer was immediate:

“I can tell you the definite answer to that; it’s because we give so much ownership to the teens when it comes to planning the events.”
Executive Director, Kyle Silver

Ownership must be initiated by the teens themselves, Mr. Silver stresses. That ownership ensures success of the programs, of community support, of the facility itself. The teens are the ones who ensure the center’s mission, “to provide teens with a safe environment in which to connect and socialize with their peers.” It’s that simple, and, according to Mr. Silver, “…it’s stood the test of time” because, he says, when you “grow from a simple base, you can have something extraordinary.”

At the Arch Street Teen Center the structure of the teen board provides that simple base. The students who underpin the ownership required for success are those on the leadership council: the president, the co-president, the vice-president, and the teen board. Working together the teen leadership committees and the adult committees provide a foundation strong enough to weather challenges that can appear daunting to the casual observer.

Simply reading Mr. Silver’s interview gives an indication of how he goes about his job on any given day: steadfastly maintaining a policy of zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol; staying informed, whether on the premises or away, with Blackberry always handy; checking emails constantly; keeping his sites on what’s going on socially among his “customer base”; being aware of the unique challenges a town like Greenwich presents, making sure kids of varying economic backgrounds and experiences can come together in a place that welcomes them all as equals.

With all this in mind, it is easy to understand that Executive Director Kyle Silver is proud of his successes, remembering when those events that now produce four hundred attendees once saw only thirty or forty.

Mr. Silver concludes with this observation: “Teenagers are a very tough demographic because they’re challenging on a lot of levels….So we have our challenges, without a doubt, but at the same time the community support has been outstanding.” Things are, it seems to Mr. Silver, “to be as good as it could be.” (OHP Interview, Kyle Silver, “The Arch Street Teen Center,” October 23, 2014.)

Our fourth interview, with Alex Gibbons, president of the teen board for two terms until his graduation in June, 2016, will be the subject of a separate post by our own student Oral History Project volunteer, Olivia Luntz. It’s next up.

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