AP NEWS

Teen center about much more than bricks and mortar

May 12, 2019

Mayor Alan Webber and City Councilor Roman Abeyta are championing a south-side teen center in Santa Fe (“Mayor marks $1M for south-side teen center,” April 28). To me, this is a visionary project that will positively impact a marginalized sector of my historic city. This teen center is something that all Santa Feans need to support — generally speaking, the schools and social systems in the area are overwhelmed and cannot fully serve the student population in the area.

For example, two teen girls I know who are 14 (and live in District 3), already are dropping out of school, even though they are in the eighth grade and are quite capable of academic performance. Both of their families are undereducated and underemployed; the poverty in which they grew up has taught them that there is no point to performing well — or at all. In their minds, there is no point to doing well in school, as there is no future for them, anyway.

I’ve tried to counsel the girls and will continue to guide them toward a different and healthier path than the one they currently tread. However, it’s hard for me to redirect what is a systemic breakdown. Now, had there already been a teen center in the area (both girls live close to the proposed location), perhaps they could have encountered adults who would have been role models and mentors. A major protective factor for at-risk kids is “the presence of mentors and support for development of skills and interests,” according to youth.gov. If the teen center were operational, I imagine that I could have volunteered there and provided an additional layer of support for the girls and perhaps redirected them long before they decided that school (and life) offers nothing of value.

Sadly, to date, there hasn’t been a strong push to build this long overdue teen center. While the Boys & Girls Clubs of America operates in the area, it’s just not enough to serve what really is a forgotten population.

District 3 tends to have the lowest turnout of voters for local elections. I believe it’s because people in the area don’t believe there’s a reason for them to vote. In talking with the girls’ parents, it’s clear they have no connection to local matters; their goal is to survive by any means necessary, and voting, to them, is a waste of time. It isn’t.

We need to support this teen center. In electing the mayor and Abeyta, District 3 has found its voice in local matters. We need to support this center, either through letters to our councilors and state legislators or through donations of time and/or money.

In building this center, City Hall would provide strong evidence that District 3 (and really, a part of District 4) isn’t forgotten. Rather, our teens would have a place that would counter teens’ notion that no one cares about them or their lives. If we don’t get behind this proposal, there will be far more lost teens than the two girls I know.

This teen center is necessary; we have elected officials who care about all of Santa Fe — not just the wealthier and politically connected part of town. We need to get behind this center by any means necessary or we will be wasting District 3’s opportunity.

Juan Blea is a writer and substance abuse counselor who lives on the south side of Santa Fe.