When 60 teens were asked what they really wanted during a community forum in southeast Raleigh a year or two ago, one of the top answers was a safe place.
The forum was held after the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy in the neighborhood in November 2008. The incident spurred Raleigh police chief Harry Dolan to launch an initiative aimed at improving the quality of life in neighborhoods, starting with the area where the shooting occurred on Tarboro Road.
Well, the city listened. Officials recently awarded Macallan Construction with a contract to renovate the former St. Monica Catholic Church and school and turn it into the first teen center operated by the city of Raleigh.
The one-story brick building was home to an elementary school for African-American children for 37 years and has served as a day care center in more recent years. The renovated center will include a wall of history that traces the building's 80 years.
It should open by Christmas.
"There are so many good things that can come of this," said Dana Youst, the city's teen program director.
The center will have a computer lab with six computers, a homework assistance area, lounge and three multi-purpose rooms. The city has been researching how other teen centers across the country operate to get ideas as well.
But the real decisions will be made after the center opens. A Youth Advisory Board made up of teens will guide what programs and activities are offered.
"We truly want their ownership in this and we want them to feel like they do have a voice," Youst said.
The city also will work with local businesses to partner on programs and other activities at the center. Youst tells me there will be much more to share in the next couple of months as plans are sorted out. So stay tuned.
The center will be the first operated by the city. But Raleigh's parks department already offers other programs for teens. When I spoke to Youst a few weeks ago about the center, we spoke a bit about teens and the tricky job of offering programs that teens will want to sign up for.
Youst tells me a teen parks program has to be like a mini-parks department because by the time a child reaches high school, many have carved out their niche. Some might love sports, others might be into art or playing in a band, others might love doing community service. But there is one thing they pretty much all want, she tells me.
"I can guarantee that nine out of 10 times they just want a place to hang out," she said. "And they get such a bad rap."