Youth Center dream needs donations

Oak Creek teens say there is nothing to do

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— When Joni Blankenship realized that teen-agers in Oak Creek who want to play a game of pool or pinball have to resort to going to a local bar, she decided the community needed a youth center.

"When you're a teen-ager and you live in a small town, it's just hard to find things to keep you busy," she said.

Fifteen-year-old Oak Creek residents Laura Self and Carmen Covert attested to the lack of activities for young people in South Routt.

"All there is do is sit at home or hang out at (Decker) Park," Covert said.

"If we're lucky, we find a ride to Steamboat," Self added.

Decker Park is a popular spot for teen-agers, the girls said. However, no one is allowed in the park after dark, which causes some conflict between youths and the Oak Creek Police Department, they said.

As the ice rink manager in Oak Creek over the winter, Blankenship recognized that the hut next to the ice rink could be the perfect building to house a youth center.

"Money is the biggest problem," she said. "It takes time and money. But I probably have more time."

Ideally, Blankenship said she would like to have a few video games, a pool table and maybe a Foosball or an air hockey table.

Right now, the building probably could hold a few video games and that's about it. To fill it with more games means an addition would have to be built, she said.

Those are the long-term plans. In the short term, Blankenship said she wants to paint the inside of the building.

But even getting that done is proving to be difficult.

Blankenship said she needs donations of paint, or money to pay for the paint.

If that happens, the next step is bringing in a few video games, and that also will need some sort of financial backing. From there, fathoming an addition for a pool table and other games is making Blankenship feel alone.

"Sometimes I do feel like I'm all by myself with this," she said.

After numerous visits to see the Oak Creek Board of Trustees, Blankenship has earned some support from the town, which is donating the building for the youth center. Also, Town Manager Ray Leibensperger has been working with Blankenship on finding grant opportunities. In fact, they are writing a grant to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation that is due June 1.

However, by the time that grant could be awarded and the money put to use, the summer would be nearly over. Plus, other grant opportunities, such as from Great Outdoors Colorado, which grants out lottery and gambling profits, require matching funds.

Michelle Petix, who started the Dock Teen Center in Steamboat, said Blankenship is on the right track.

"The kids need a place to call their own," she said.

To get a youth center, Petix explained that it will take time and perseverance. Money is available out there for the people who know where to look for it especially for the smaller communities in South Routt that don't have a huge funding source.

"They are going to get that money before I am," she said.

The key is to get involved with a local nonprofit group, such as the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. That organization offers grants to such projects but also has connections on the state level for larger grants, Petix said.

Neera Harmon, who is a program associate for the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, said from what she knows of the project that granting money for a youth center in Oak Creek would be something the foundation would be interested in.

"Affordable youth services are a component to a healthy community," Harmon said. "The procedure for (Blankenship) is to write a grant to us."

Petix said another important element in organizing a youth center is the South Routt Youth Council, which was organized last year by Grand Futures. A youth council with ample representatives from the teen-agers in South Routt can help provide direction to the needs in the area, she said.

"We have been working in the last couple years to develop the youth council in South Routt," said Angela Kimmes, interim director of Grand Futures.

What that effort evolved into is a youth council that Oak Creek Police Officer Dave Miller is facilitating.

However, Miller said participation in the council has dropped off.

"We have taken a lot of steps since the formation, but it seems like the more steps we take the less participation we get," he said at a youth council meeting Wednesday night.

The South Routt Youth Council has organized some activities for young people this summer, and Miller said he hopes they will generate more interest in council.

In June it will sponsor a fishing tournament at Stagecoach Reservoir, which teen-ager Sam Wisecup is helping to organize.

Also, Carmen Covert is helping to organize three night tag games in Decker Park over the summer, which is an activity the council organized before that was a big success.

"You get to stay out late and you don't get arrested or anything because you're with the cops," Covert said. She added that Miller volunteers his time to supervise the event.

Blankenship attended the youth council meeting Wednesday, and both Covert and Self expressed interest in a youth center.

Plus, Kimmes said she could get some money to buy paint for the youth center through Grand Futures but emphasized the agency is unable to be permanent funding source.

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