'The Barn' offers fun for teens Center provides services, activities

June 28, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

At "The Barn" in Columbia, there's no hay, farmers or four-legged animals -- just lots of teen-agers horsing around.

Basking in the fun one afternoon last week at what's known officially as the Columbia Association's Teen Center were Morgan Bell, 12, and Danya Anthony, 16, who played pool downstairs.

As Cheryl Lynn's classic R&B hit "Got To Be Real" blared from the radio, the two keyed their shots until only the eight ball remained. When it was over, Danya shot the black ball into a right pocket, and left as the victor.

Since the mid-1970s, the Teen Center (first called the Youth Resource Center) has been a magnet for youths ages 11 to 17.

Last year, the center attracted 10,000 young people, said Ann Scherr, assistant director of community services for the Columbia Association, a nonprofit organization that manages the city's recreational facilities and open space areas. "There has been a steady increase," she said, talking about the number of youths who have gone to the center over the years.

The center provides everything from basketball to pool and pingpong to occasional dances, job fairs and field trips.

The center that opened almost 20 years ago to give local teen-agers something constructive to do also provides the state Juvenile Services Agency another site in Howard County, Ms. Scherr said.

JSA contributes about $60,000 of the center's $141,000 annual budget, and the agency's probation officers often use the center to meet teen-age offenders, Ms. Scherr said.

Today, three two-week camps begin, stressing teen leadership, outdoor discovery and self-confidence. The camps will be repeated throughout the summer. Registration fees range from $190 to $275.

The barn-like building is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer, and from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30p.m. during school days.

On Wednesday afternoon, Karastan Saunders, 10, had worked up a sweat playing basketball.

"I started coming here for fun," he said during a break. "I think it's important that kids have fun during their free time."

The Oakland Mills resident often walks to The Barn with his twin brothers Savoy and Sterling, both 14.

Youth counselor Mario Figueroa, 19, echoed Karastan's sentiment.

The Barn, he said, is important because it not only gives youths something to do, but it keeps them off the streets. Young people also can talk about serious matters with the center's adults, he said.

The center has been a lifesaver for Tarwah Merchant, 17, who moved from Florida to Columbia in August.

He said he was depressed because he left his friends in Florida.

But in November the pingpong enthusiast began going to the center and has met scores of friends and improved his play.

"This is a place to chill," the recent Oakland Mills High School graduate said. "You've got to relax somewhere."

The Teen Center is located at 5851 Robert Oliver Place in Oakland Mills. For more information, call 992-3726.

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