The cry has gone out for decades, probably as long as there have been teenagers: “There’s nothing to do in this town.”As parents, we find that a little hard to believe in this age of on-demand entertainment. On the other hand, the thought of the kids sitting on the couch, texting friends, and playing video games into their mid-30s is far from appealing.
That’s where the Teen Late Night program comes in. It’s a free, supervised recreation program for middle school and high school students that takes place on Friday nights at the city’s Firstenburg and Marshall community centers. The program runs until 11 p.m. Teens are free to use the facilities including the gymnasium, shoot pool, play ping pong or video games, or just hang out. No adults are allowed, except for program staff. Teens are admitted simply by showing a school ID card or being signed in by a parent. Once admitted, the teens aren’t allowed to leave and return in the same evening — an effort to keep them from fooling their parents as to their whereabouts.
“I’d rather see kids on the basketball court than out on the streets,” said Chris Sutter, interim Vancouver police chief. “It gives kids a positive outlet, they are safe, and it’s a great deterrent to juvenile crime.”
That also was the view of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which stepped in and donated $25,000 to fund the program from Oct. 12 through May 2013.
“You have to have a place for kids to go Friday nights,” said Kaylee Wiita, chairwoman of the foundation’s board of directors, who along with other adults checked out the program firsthand on a recent Friday night. She was pleased to find several dozen teens participating during her stop at the Marshall Center.
But even as the program enjoys current success, its future remains unclear. It’s one of the services provided by the Clark-Vancouver Parks and Recreation Department, where budgets and services have been cut and cut again as the recession reduced government revenue growth while other costs, such as for pensions, pay and benefits, rose.
The Community Foundation’s support is only guaranteed for this program year. The charity has been a big supporter of parks programs, including funding the Everybody Plays scholarship program and buying supplies for various other activities.
It would be appropriate for the government to fund these programs. Lest anyone complain about teen programs being bureaucratic mission creep, a history lesson is in order. The current program has been operating for about 15 years. But the idea of the city parks department supporting a late-night program for teens dates to 1944, when the Trapedero Club opened its doors in the city’s old Memorial Building, which stood in downtown Vancouver. The Trap endured for more than a generation, and probably reached its zenith of fame in March 1963, when it held a concert by a new group called Paul Revere and the Raiders.
But even if government funding is appropriate, the program will need to compete with a list of other compelling needs. Maybe the city can find the money, or perhaps the Community Foundation or another group will be able to extend support. Maybe the teens can afford to pay some admission. But the Teen Late Night program deserves to endure for at least as long as perpetually bored teenagers complain about having nothing fun to do on a Friday night.