Olney residents push for teen center

Project Change exploring locations, options to make dream come true

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Teens, parents, business owners and developers, community leaders, youth pastors and others gathered in central Olney on Feb. 9 to discuss the need for a teen center.

The forum was sponsored by Project Change, an Olney-area youth group that has been providing positive activities for local youth since 1998. The group’s long-term plan has always included a teen center.

‘‘The Project Change way is for teens to lead the organization while adults provide support,” said Stephanie Bryn, who with Project Change board member Anne Moriarty provided a history of the organization.

Bryn, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, has been an adult supporter of the organization from the beginning. Her son, Brandon Bryn, along with fellow Sherwood High School students Anthony Decicco, Katie Yee and Mandy Woodfield, founded the organization after attending a National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) meeting. Project Change has since joined the NOYS consortium.

The founding students have long since graduated from Sherwood High School, and some have entered the field of public health. But the need for a teen center in the Olney area is still uppermost in the minds of today’s Project Change members.

‘‘There are many teens in the area and more will be coming [when Good Counsel High School opens in the fall of 2006],” said Blake Gilbert, Sherwood High School student, teen activities coordinator for Project Change, and an officer in both the Sherwood and Montgomery County chapters of Students Against Destructive Decisions. ‘‘It’s no wonder that teens are hanging out where they shouldn’t be and where adults don’t want them to be. A teen center would be a safe alternative to driving out of the area to find entertainment, on winding roads in the middle of the night.”

The recent spate of car crashes involving teen drivers, the rise in gang activity in Montgomery County and other tragic incidents involving local youth underscore the need to provide positive and safe activities for teens, organizers say.

‘‘Local businesses should be paying attention to the amount of money being spent out of the area by local teens,” said Barbara Falcigno, a member of the Olney Coalition.

Falcigno cited a recent survey of Sherwood High School students conducted by Project Change that found that teens spend an average of $30 per week out of the area. It was also noted that local businesses could enjoy the tax advantage of donating to a nonprofit organization.

Falcigno and other members of the coalition are following Carl Freeman Retail’s plans to develop the Olney Town Center. Becky Kuster from Carl Freeman Retail attended the forum and stated her organization’s support for a local teen center. Freeman has provided Project Change with pro bono advice on developing a business plan and contributed in-kind consulting that led to the group’s status as a nonprofit organization.

A local Olney realtor and Sherwood parent also has lent her support. Sherry Felice of Re⁄Max Realty secured the location for the Feb. 9 forum. The vacant property on North High Street was discussed as a possible location for a temporary teen center. However, funds would have to be raised to cover a portion of the rent.

The group discussed several fund-raising options such as renting out portions of the property, as well as public and private donations. Many felt that Project Change should proceed with a temporary space, which would hopefully spark increased attention and funding for something more permanent.

Audrey Partington is an adult leader of Project Change in Olney.