Council funds a teen center for Harper's Choice

May 04, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

West Columbia middle school students looking to escape the after-school doldrums will have a place of their own next school ++ year, courtesy of the Columbia Association: a new teen center.

The Columbia Council allocated $10,000 in the fiscal year that started Sunday to staff a west side teen center at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice village. The Harper's Choice village board also contributed $3,500 to pay for start-up equipment costs.

The new center, which is projected to open in September, will have a capacity of about 50 students for after-school activities and about 100 for events, such as dances. It will complement the teen center in Oakland Mills village, which offers indoor and outdoor games, leadership and homework programs, arts and crafts, dances and trips.

"It will provide them a place they can go after school, a safe haven," said Rene Buckmon, director of the Oakland Mills Teen Center, who also will supervise the new center. "Most parents I've talked to like that. They know where they can find their kids."

After-school activities will be tailored to 11- to 14-year-olds, while events such as dances and pool parties will be sponsored separately for middle school and high school students.

Harper's Choice and Columbia Association officials say young people from west Columbia often lack transportation to get to the teen center in Oakland Mills, which draws about 90 youths each week.

"We don't draw very well from the Harper's Choice area. It might be too far for kids to be able to travel," said Ann Scherr, assistant director of the Columbia Association's Community Services Division. "We're hoping that by having two locations, we'll increase the number of kids we serve."

To promote a sense of belonging at the new center and to help Columbia Association administrators track attendance, young people might be charged a nominal annual membership fee, perhaps $2, Ms. Scherr said.

The site for the new center, the bottom floor of Kahler Hall, was home to a youth center in the early 1970s, since discontinued, Ms. Scherr said. Harper's Choice community leaders say they have been trying to re-establish a west side activities center for several years.

Hope Sachwald, the Columbia Council representative from Harper's Choice, said she supports the program because it serves youths who are at an awkward age -- too old for a baby sitter or day care, but perhaps too young to be completely on their own.

"Sometimes they need their own space to be with peers, but they also need a place with supervision and guidance -- not necessarily in their faces but there," said Ms. Sachwald, a speech-language pathologist at Mount Airy Elementary School in Carroll County.

Teen center programs also can help bolster middle school students' self-esteem and help keep them from temptations, such as smoking and drinking, she said.

"It's better for self-esteem than going home and watching soap operas or hanging out around stores," she said.

The council, which also serves as the nonprofit Columbia Association's board of directors, approved in March several other initiatives for the new budget year. It said those efforts are aimed at making the association's programs and facilities more accessible and affordable for Columbia residents and at maintaining Columbia property values.

They include:

* Expanding a half-price discount program to all 13 of the association's summer camps, which regularly range in price from $90 to $285 for the season. The council also allocated $18,000 to increase the number of slots for low- and moderate-income youths and adjusted the income-eligibility guidelines so that more families could qualify.

* Three new recreational plans for residents who are interested in more limited memberships at reduced rates. The "After Hours" plan provides admission to the Supreme Sports Club, The Athletic Club, CA tennis clubs and the Columbia Swim Center after 9 p.m. weekdays and after 1 p.m. weekends. It also includes admission to four outdoor swimming pools with low attendance -- Jeffers Hill, Talbott Springs, Hobbit's Glen and Faulkner Ridge -- after 1 p.m. daily. The After Hours plan is available for individuals only, at a price of $294 per year.

The "Mini-Pool Plan" allows use of those four pools during open hours for $200 per season for a family, $190 for two members and $105 for an individual.

Also, an August-only pool membership for all of Columbia's 21 outdoor pools is available at 60 percent off regular rates.

* A $2,500 allocation to start a revolving loan program to help residents repair their properties to comply with architectural covenants and to sponsor a day in which volunteers help fix homes. The association charges Columbia property owners an annual fee to manage recreational facilities, community programs and open space areas.

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