In the year since the Arlington Hills Community Center opened on St. Paul’s East Side, Emani Frazier has made posters, painted walls, brainstormed ideas to attract other teenagers and made friends across racial, ethnic and economic divides.
Oh yeah, she’s also writing, filming and narrating a movie about the center’s first year.
“I hope to have it done soon,” said the junior at Community of Peace Academy, a St. Paul charter school. “This place is like a family to me. People are so nice and loving and caring. They are always willing to help each other out.”
That kind of whirlwind activity and those types of connections were just what city leaders had in mind when they opened Arlington Hills a year ago. The facility combines a recreation center, a public library and a technology hub called Createch, meant to spur teens’ creative talents through technology.
Arlington Hills is hosting a community celebration to mark the anniversary from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday. The public — young and old — is invited.
In an interview, Mayor Chris Coleman lauded the $14 million center as a key cog in his goal to bolster education in St. Paul by enhancing kids’ opportunities for enrichment.
“We set out to build a first-class facility and invest in the future of the East Side, to create a center where our young people can go to extend the learning day,” he said. “Libraries and rec centers are so much more than places to read a book or bounce a basketball.”
The center, in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, can help close gaps of opportunity and equity for minority groups, he said.
“What is happening there has direct ties to student success, where mentors and tutors and caring adults are there to steer kids in the right direction and keep them out of trouble,” Coleman said.
The center sports an array of possibilities and activities, from basketball, volleyball, Tae Kwon Do, judo, and a fitness center, to library story times featuring multiple languages, including Hmong and Karen.
Since it opened, Arlington Hills has printed more than 2,000 library cards, putting it among the city’s top three libraries for new card registrations.
And then there is Createch Studio. More than 800 teens are registered at the center and use its recording studio, iPads, MacBooks, laptops and video games. There is high tech (circuitry and software) and low-tech (sewing and crafting) — all meant to spur creativity for young people ages 13 to 19.
It promotes collaboration, said Cassandra Carter, a library staff member. Kids who once segregated themselves — Asians with Asians, blacks with blacks — now work and hang out together, she said.
“They are sharing music, looking at things, creating things, gaming, making movies,” Carter said.
Even more technology — a 3-D printer and laser cutter — is anticipated. Sumer camps will promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects.
“Kids are at their best when actively pursuing their own interests,” said Jill Boldenow, Community & Digital Services director for the St. Paul Public Libary. There’s a name for it, she said. HOMAGO, meaning hanging out, messing around and geeking out. “We are just putting together a space that allows teens to do that,” Boldenow said.