By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Local activists have found a temporary home for a Middlebury youth center, and they will now turn their attention to finding money to hire a coordinator to staff the facility.
Members of the group Addison County Teens & Friends Inc. (ACT) on Nov. 6 hammered out an agreement with the Russ Sholes Senior Center to share space in that organization’s home located on the bottom floor of the Middlebury municipal building. ACT board member Emily Joselson said teens will soon be able to enjoy supervised activities in the center during late afternoons and evenings — times during which seniors are generally not using the space.
“We’re very excited to start a relationship with (the senior center),” Joselson said.
That relationship began this past weekend, when several local teens and parents helped ready the Russ Sholes space for some renovations. They vacuumed, painted, swept and hoisted furnishings in and out of the center.
It’s a center that someday could host a ping-pong table, pool table and computer equipment. Joselson said the shared space may also lend itself to some intergenerational activities, such as chess, knitting and computer games.
Organizers will continue to keep their eyes out for a permanent youth center for Middlebury. But for now, they are hoping teen activities bloom at the Russ Sholes facility. ACT members this week will begin soliciting funds for an estimated $50,000 in annual operating expenses for the youth center. Those expenses include around $36,000 in salary and benefits for a full-time coordinator. The balance of the spending plan reflects phone and computer charges, food and drinks, administrative fees and miscellaneous supplies.
Boosters will ask selectboards in all seven Addison Central Supervisory Union towns for financial contributions toward the teen center budget. That process will begin on Tuesday when ACT members ask Middlebury selectmen to earmark $40,000 in the municipal budget toward the $50,000 need.
“Ideally, we’ll have it in the town budgets,” Joselson said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll go the petition route.”
Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said the board will listen carefully to ACT’s request this Tuesday, but he’s not sure whether he and his colleagues will be ready to endorse a financial request at this time. Speaking for himself, Tenny said he’d like to see the center prove itself for a while before committing substantial tax dollars to its support.
“Let’s work together here, and find a way to get the idea moving forward,” Tenny said. “Let’s not jump the gun and hire a person for (the center)… until we see the program develop a little more.”
That said, Tenny is pleased to see the strides ACT members have made. Collaborating with the Russ Sholes center, he said, was a “good stroke of work. It’s a good way to start a fledgling organization like this.”
Also heartened is Jutta Miska, a local parent, ACT member and someone who has spent the past 15 years supporting the off-and-on effort to create a Middlebury teen center.
“I’m very excited,” she said, “especially by the community support.”