Youth Center in Parker Makes a Difference

Janice Shelton & Susan McGinley
Oct. 6, 2000

Parker, Arizona is a small town located on the Arizona-California border. It has few resources for youth recreation; no mall, movie theater, bowling alley, or other gathering place.

A few years ago the main alternatives were drugs, sex, gangs, stealing, and vandalizing. When these problems began to increase among Parker youth, the Arizona Cooperative Extension worked with town leaders and organizations to develop recreational programs.

In 1995, five youngsters, one adult volunteer, and an extension educator participated in the University of Arizona's "Teen Biz" program, and developed the idea for a youth center. After gathering monetary support from the Parker Area Alliance for Community Empowerment and other county, city and university sources, they opened the Players 9th Street Youth Center, named by the founding youth members.

It was expanded in 1997 with construction financed through a community development block grant, and now features a snack bar, large open game/activity room, computer room, learning kitchen, meeting room, and offices in a 4,000 square-foot facility centrally located in town. The center is available for youth groups and youth serving agencies to use as a meeting location. In 1999 more than 16 organizations met at the center.

The Player's center, which operates on a membership basis, has become the major focus of youth activity in Parker. More than 1,200 young people between 10 and 18 have purchased memberships since the center opened. About 65, who are between 13 and 17 have obtained employment training via the center, and another 65 have developed job skills through volunteering. As of January 2000, they had volunteered 4,134 hours and adults 1,538 hours, saving the center $43,263 in operating expenses.

These Parker youth programs have succeeded to the point that they have become a model for similar programs in other communities. Five Parker youth leaders were asked to present their success story of the youth center, "Moving Beyond Talk," to 125 participants at the Sedona Town Hall in Flagstaff last year.

Youth Center teens also facilitated a workshop for 18 youth and adults from Navajo County to learn how to start a youth center. Two teens now serve on the Governor's Youth Commission and started a local group that assists with decisions about their youth center. Teens also made presentations at the National School Age Workshop in Seattle on the youth center.

Youth recognition has also become part of the program. The center now honors a "Teen of the Month," and instituted a "Volunteen" program last summer; the names of students who worked 100 hours or more at the center have been submitted for recognition through the President's Council on Volunteerism.


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