Idle to idols: Center is into teen pursuits

With competitions, coffeehouses, and arts and crafts, Columbia facility tries to provide a mall alternative

September 21, 2005|By Ruth L. Tisdale | Ruth L. Tisdale,sun reporter

Since the age of 10, Rey Rivera has dreamed of becoming a rapper.

"I always knew that I wanted to pursue something that I was passionate about," said Rivera, a senior at Long Reach High School, adding that he found inspiration in all types of music, including rock 'n' roll and jazz.

With family members screaming his name and the leaves of the trees beginning to fall, Rivera urged the audience Sunday afternoon to clap along with him and "fall back into reality" as he claimed first place at the third Columbia Teen Idol Competition.

The Columbia Association's Teen Center in Oakland Mills Village Center hosted the event as a part of its mission to engage teenagers in positive pursuits.

"While the community has changed, all in all, teens still have the same needs," said Rene Buskmon, the center's manager. "We try to develop programs that are based on the needs of the times."

The competition was a part of the center's "Hear My Voice Day," which included poetry recitation and music from teen bands.

"It's great to see that kids have somewhere to go on the weekends," said Miss Maryland USA Marina Harrison, one of three judges. "It's good the community embraces it. The title, `Hear My Voice,' says a lot."

With so many teenagers complaining of boredom, Buskmon said the event is one of the many activities the center holds to give teenagers something to do and avoid trouble.

"We have pool, pingpong, arts and crafts, and, in October , we are starting teen clubs," Buskmon said, adding that the center opened in 1982. "It is a way to keep them busy and off of the streets."

Sitting at a table inside the center and waiting for the competition to begin, George Obiozor, a senior at Oakland Mills High School, said he comes to the center twice a week because of the atmosphere.

"I come here a lot to do my homework and do research," Obiozor said, while eating a hamburger. "This place gives teens a chance to develop socializing skills and study harder."

In addition to the center, Columbia Council Chairman Joshua Feldmark said the association's Teen Advisory Committee, which was formed last year and helped organize the competition, works to ensure that teens have something to do other than spending time at the mall.

"Teenagers want more things to do," Feldmark said, adding that the committee has a budget to plan events. "They are just that more likely to be successful in planning events for themselves than we as adults can be in planning events for them."

Advisory committee member Amber Henry, who also participated in the competition, said the committee sponsors coffeehouses to get teenagers involved with the center.

"A lot of teenagers don't come to the events because they think they are going to be kind of corny," said Henry, a senior at Wilde Lake High School. "But when they come, they see how cool it is."

Third-place finisher Skye Bennett, an eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle School who sang Michelle Branch's "Everywhere," and second-place finisher Zaire Gross, a senior at Wilde Lake, who sang an original piece, "Emotions," received gift certificates to The Mall in Columbia as well as movie passes. Poetry winner Nancy Erickson, a 13-year-old who is homeschooled, recited her piece, The Wall, during the day's activities.

"These kind of events showcase the teenagers' talents," said Maggie J. Brown, president of the Columbia Association. "We have to give them an outlet so that they can express themselves."

Though he acknowledges that he did not know about the center until the competition, Rivera, who said he will use the first-place prize of studio time to record his demo, is thankful for the help in furthering his dreams.

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