That’s the alternative for several of the teens who are regulars at a Coon Rapids teen center, whose future is now uncertain.
The Element Teen Center — a collaboration between the city of Coon Rapids and Anoka-Hennepin schools community education — closed in August after funding dried up. The Coon Rapids City Council scrounged up $3,200 to reopen the center Oct. 1 through Dec. 20 after teens and adults flooded City Council meetings to politely protest.
Stakeholders from the city and school district will meet later this month to discuss the long-term future of the center at Riverwind Park, 11747 Crocus St. It takes about $15,000 annually to fund the teen center, said Heather Peters, community education spokeswoman.
Since 2002, the center has offered a safe, free, supervised place for students to socialize, play games, watch movies and participate in community events.
Teens listen to music and host video game and billiards tournaments. They play football at Riverwind Park, snack, and unwind after a day of school. About two dozen teens regularly frequent the center, located just blocks from the junior high and high schools.
Coon Rapids Youth First — a collaborative venture between the city, the school district, Anoka County, teens and parents — oversaw the teen center and secured grants to help fund it. Youth First disbanded in 2012 due to declining participation. That led to the teen center’s temporary closure and now the discussion about its future.
The adults who pay for the center may be studying its value, but the teens who hang out there said it’s a no-brainer.
Michelle Iverson, 25, was one of the founding teen members; she was 13 at the time. She’s now an adult staff member at the center.
“It was great to have something we thought of. ... It was pretty awesome,” Iverson said.
She would have been on her own or hanging out at fast-food joints if she hadn’t had the teen center, she said.
Iverson met her husband at the teen center. They became friends and married this year. She shared her story at a recent City Council meeting, imploring the city to keep the center open.
She said kids have fewer options today. Businesses tend to run teens out, and most free programs have dried up.
The center, supervised by adults, also offers a reprieve from school’s strict social hierarchy. “They love it here because there are no cliques. They don’t have to worry about fitting in because they all fit in,” Iverson said.
Keauna Halvorsen, 15, and Sam Schultz, 13, spend many afternoons at the center. The best friends sat on a couch, chatting on a recent afternoon.
Halvorsen said she’s basically on her own after school, so she was disappointed to hear the center’s future was in doubt. She spent two hours writing a speech about the importance of the teen center and gave it at a City Council meeting.
“I was really upset. This is like my home, basically,” Halvorsen said. “I love it here. I’ve made tons of friends.”