Harper's Choice center offers 'comfortable place' for middle-schoolers

October 12, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

School was over for the day, but Betty Snell warned the boy to get ready for a serious lesson.

"It's time now. It's time to take you out," she predicted, holding a red pingpong paddle. "Stand back, because it's all over."

Swinging the paddle, Ms. Snell shot a pingpong ball beyond 12-year-old Travis Irving's side of the green table.

Smiling, she announced: "Next." She had defeated Travis 21-20.

The Westside Teen Center, which opened Oct. 3 in the basement of Kahler Hall in the Harper's Choice Village Center, offers after-school recreation for middle-schoolers such as Travis.

"It's fun," said Travis, a sixth-grader at Harper's Choice Middle School who visits the center daily to do his homework and play games.

The new center is only tentatively named. But beginning today, youngsters can enter a contest to give it a permanent name.

To join the center, students must pay a one-time membership fee of $2, said Ms. Snell, the teen center's manager.

Once they are members, the sixth- through eighth-graders can play pingpong and video and board games, solve puzzles, do their homework, cook or listen to music. Dances, basketball tournaments and other sporting events will also be held at the center, which is open 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"It's OK," Lisa Hall, 11, said of the center. "We make stuff. We cook and we play Sega [video games] and stuff like that."

Travis and Lisa were among a daily average of about 20 youngsters who visited the center this week, Ms. Snell said.

Yesterday afternoon, 11 youths were there, completing their homework and playing Ping-Pong. A nearby boom box blared loud rhythm and blues tunes.

Jerome Shorty, 11, sat at a rear table to do his English homework.

"My homework is to write a paragraph about how I had to act like an adult," he said, adding that he chose to write about baby-sitting his 3-year-old cousin.

The scene pleased Ms. Snell.

"This is my love, these kids," she said. "This is something I've always wanted for this side."

The center is Columbia's second one for teens, said Renee Buckmon, supervisor for both the Westside center and the teen center in Oakland Mills known as The Barn. The Oakland Mills center began in the mid-1970s in the eastern part of the county and draws 90 students each week.

The Westside teen center is the second established by the Columbia Association.

Earlier this year, the Columbia Council allocated $10,000 for it.

The Harper's Choice village board contributed an additional $3,500 for the center's start-up equipment costs.

Ms. Snell said the center is not competing with its sister facility.

"We all have the same thing in mind -- the happiness of children," Ms. Snell said.

Both centers target middle schoolers -- instead of high school students -- because the younger students usually want something to do but don't drive or have access to transportation, Ms. Buckmon said.

She said after-school intramural sports activity is the center's biggest competitor for teen-agers' attention.

Ms. Snell said her daughter, now grown, frequented a similar teen center in Kahler Hall in the 1970s before it closed.

So, Ms. Snell said, working at the center and being around teens again means she has come "full circle."

The Westside center is much more than a hangout, she said.

The center is "just a safe, comfortable place to go," said Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager. "If kids have a healthy environment, a friendly environment to go to, they stay out of trouble."

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