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Loving new digs at teen center

by: Kristen Forbes, Cydny Winslow, above, thoroughly enjoys her role as the teen program coordinator for the city of Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation  Department.

As the teen program coordinator for Lake Oswego's Parks and Recreation Department, Cydny Winslow faces a lot of challenges. Ask her about them and she'll be clear: Working with the kids isn't one of them.

'For the most part, when you say you work with junior high school kids, you get this reaction from people who are like: 'Eeh! Why would you do that?' and I get that a lot. And to me, it's one of the best ages to work with because they have this really independent sense of self. They have great senses of humor, they have a great level of honesty about who they are and about their peers. And I mean, there are struggles because you are dealing with hormones and drama and different kinds of things, but it's refreshing because you actually can talk to these people and influence them in a way that doesn't impair who they are.'

What is challenging? Balancing her role as a teen mentor and gaining the trust of both the students she works with and the parents who allow her to, for starters.

'It's hard to have kids think that you're cool and then have parents think that you're an adult,' Winslow says. 'With junior high school kids, you really do have to kind of just get in their world and be like them for them to even trust you with anything. So to do that and then have the parents think that you're an OK person - sometimes it's tricky.'

Another challenge? Getting the word out about the program and its offerings.

'It's difficult because you never know what's going to reach who,' Winslow, 27, says.

Perhaps most challenging of all: Convincing people that the program is city-run but not city-funded.

'I go out and try to get donations from people because we are a nonprofit,' Winslow says. 'A lot of times, I get: 'Oh, well you're city-funded. You're Lake Oswego, you're from the city, you should be able to afford that stuff.' And I'm like, 'No, no, no! We're city-run, but we're not city-funded. This is grant money.' We really are a nonprofit.'

Winslow oversees the McKenzie Lounge for Teens and its accompanying activities, including the After School Activities Program (ASAP). For a $10 annual fee ($15 for non-residents), junior high students can drop in from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and either participate in a non-required set-up activity (screen printing was a recent favorite) or play videogames, pool or ping pong, work on homework, watch movies, chat or just hang out.

The program offers free drop-in lounge hours for junior high students on Fridays, 6 to 9 p.m. High school students are welcome on Saturdays, 7 to 11 p.m. All teens, 12 to 18, are invited to drop in from 6 to 9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.

'It's nice to just have a place where they feel like they can come and hang out and not feel like they're being watched all the time,' Winslow says. 'It's still supervised, but it's not like your mom breathing down your neck.'

'We're not a babysitting program,' she stresses. 'Basically we're here to ensure that they make good choices, but also to let them make their own choices.'

Several times a month, Winslow plans and runs ASAP field trips. Costs vary, depending on activity. Field trips give students the opportunity to participate in activities such as paint ball, laser tag, rock climbing, pottery, etc.

Then, once a month, Winslow helps with Java Jam, a monthly music concert put on by high schoolers. The next one takes place Saturday, March 8, and features Nickel Arcade, a popular high school band.

One aspect of the program Winslow is particularly proud of is the inclusion companion, which pairs special-needs kids with a companion who encourages inclusion and socialization. This gives the special-needs youngsters the opportunity to interact with their peers and it gives the other students a lesson in tolerance and patience.

Before taking on the coordinator role in September, Winslow worked as a site coordinator for a Catholic school.

Prior to that, she worked as a program assistant with an after-school program for a nonprofit group. She also worked as a portrait photographer, even going to art school with the intention of becoming a photographer.

She never finished school, instead opting for a different life path. While working as a program assistant, Winslow realized she was making a difference in kids' lives.

'A lot of the kids were going through divorces. They were all on medication or in therapy. Ninety percent of them really needed some sort of consistency in their lives. It really helped shape who I was, having those kids around that really kind of needed me around. It made me a much stronger teacher,' she says.

Although Winslow keeps up her artistic background and paints and crafts her own jewelry in her spare time, she insists this isn't a job that requires a lot of unwinding when she goes home at night.

'This job is amazing,' she says. 'I go to the lunch promos during the week and the kids come up to me and they're like, 'Dude, do you get paid to do this?' and I say, 'Yes, I do.' It's the perfect situation. I have so much fun.'

Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .