Investment in youth vital to health of community

October 10, 2011

This past weekend my son attended for the first time the Fallston Youth Center, sponsored by the Fallston Recreation Council. The program, offered on 13 Friday evenings at Fallston Middle School from 7 to 10 p.m. October through April, is offered to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the Fallston school district. According to the Fallston Rec website, the center is designed to give middle schoolers a "safe, controlled, drug and alcohol free place for these students to gather and dance to music provided by a DJ or play sporting games like basketball and foosball."

From the time we arrived on the crowded parking lot at the school what I saw was impressive. Both gyms and a portion of the lobby at Fallston Middle School were buzzing with activity. Youth center volunteers said that on the program's first Friday evening of the year the number of kids signed up had already exceeded the expected 600 expected to register. (That's a sizable number given that total enrollment at the school itself is 892.)

As soon as we arrived, you could see throngs of boys and girls talking, laughing and, basically, just hanging out with their friends.

It did my heart good to see so many kids together having a good time participating in good, clean fun.

My son, who just entered the sixth grade at Fallston Middle and wasn't initially sold on the idea of the youth center, reported he had a great time at the event.

"It was cool," he said after I picked him up at the end of the night.

Among the other offerings featured at the center, which costs $45 for all 13 nights (financial assistance is available for families who need help with the fee), were ping pong and a wide variety of concessions for sale, including pizza, soda and candy.

A big part of the success of the program lies in the involvement of the parent volunteers. The parent of every middle schooler who registers is asked to commit to chaperoning one night out of the course of the 13 evenings. That's 600 parents or guardians times a shift of minimally three hours each which comes to 1,800 volunteer hours parents of the community are giving of their time.

Then there are the adults who comprise the youth center board and staff who organize the program and keep it running.

I am grateful so many parents in my community are willing to share so much of their time. Their efforts enrich not only the lives of the participating kids but those of the parents themselves, who get to have fun with their children in a wholesome environment.

And judging from the parents who were on hand Friday night to work at the first event of the year, the adults definitely looked like they were enjoying themselves, too.

It is a sign of the health of any community when its children have a place where they can come together to socialize and take part in fun recreational activities.

Based on the level of participation in the youth center, Fallston, and by extension Harford County, is thriving.

This investment of time and resources for our kids — our very future — is clearly a laudable goal.

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