Monroe Y teen room gives a warm place to chill after school
Tori Whetzel, 14, left, works on a new hairdo for a friend, 13-year-old Dannika Chandler, as other YMCA teens enjoy a game of foosball on a visit to the Monroe Y’s Teen Room on Friday, Dec. 13.
MONROE — The Teen Room at the YMCA is an afterschool hub, for friends to talk, or even dance it out.
“It’s a good, safe place for them to be,” said Mani Fergoso, teen coordinator at the Monroe Y.
He said his program is busiest on Fridays with about 30 kids, and Monday through Thursday he gets about half that. Activities are open-ended and include socializing, video gaming, foosball and board games. Fergoso said some teens use the group-exercise rooms to blast the music and dance away afterschool stress.
In the past, Fergoso structured the time afterschool in a program called “Seventh Period” that had homework-time required. Now, homework help is optional.
Nat, a teen who wanted to give her first name only, said she has been attending for two years. “It’s a fun place that I can hang out with my friends,” she said.
Shelves hold board games, including Scrabble, Risk, Cranium and Boggle. Some kids just like to socialize, while others take a seat along the wall, and tap away on cell phones. On a Monday afternoon, about half of the kids were around a table talking and eating a snack.
In Generation Z style, they are attuned to surroundings while engaging with their cell phone.
Middle schoolers saunter in at about 2:30 p.m., grab a snack and find one of six seats around the table. Fergoso said they used to sell snacks, but some kids didn’t have the pocket-change, so he reshaped the program to be more inclusive. Now the Sky Valley Food Bank donates snacks.
Seventh grader Garrett Brindamor, 12, has been going to the teen room for two years. “I like it because a bunch of my friends came here and they have games and stuff.” He said if he wasn’t at the teen room, he’d probably just sleep after school.
Eighth grader Dannika Chandler, 13, has been going for three years. She has seen the changes in how different teen coordinators operate the program. “It’s fun to have people’s perspective and how they run the program.” She recalls a “circle time” with one teen coordinator, and likes the freedom of Fergoso’s programming.
The snacks and the dining-room style experience create a family atmosphere.
Fergoso has deep roots in the community and said he draws in new participants by visiting the schools. He has a relationship with teachers and counselors, so he is able to get permission to attend lunches. “That’s one of the biggest ways I reach out to kids,” he said.
The Y offers a $20-per-month youth membership for teens under the age of 18, and a $17-per-year option for kids who are on free and reduced lunch programs, which indicates that their household lives near or below the poverty line. The front desk has information for teens who want to try it out and see if it’s something they enjoy.
More kids filter in as the clock turns to 2:45 p.m. They arrive on shuttles that run between the schools and the Y. The transportation is a co-agreement between the nonprofit and the schools.
“It’s a good group of kids,” Fergoso said.
Part of what the Y brought into Fergoso’s life is something he passes on to the teens. “(The YMCA) taught me that higher education is possible,” he said. He is now halfway through his associate’s degree and on the way to a career in helping people, either in general psychology or social work.
“This is the work that I enjoy,” he said.
For more information on the Monroe YMCA Teen Room, call 360-805-1879 or visit the Y at 14033 Fryelands Boulevard.
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