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Has the Summit peaked?


West Linn's teen center loses YMCA, is now operated by Willamette Christian Church

Few children or their parents may have noticed, but a major shift occurred this fall at the Summit, the teen center located in the Cascade Summit shopping center in West Linn.

When the Summit opened in October 2012, local teenagers finally had a place to congregate during after-school hours. It was a welcome solution to the students, to their parents and, importantly, to the Cascade Summit merchants who had seen their establishments overrun with teenagers after the final bell rang around 4 p.m. each school day at nearby Rosemont Ridge Middle School.

by: FILE PHOTO - The Summit, a West Linn teen center, opened its doors to middle school students in October 2012. This year, however, the church opted to sever ties with the center's operator, the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette.The teen center came to fruition thanks to the efforts of West Linn City Councilor Mike Jones, who held a meeting with business, city, school and community representatives in February 2012 to discuss the need for a place for kids to hang out other than the Safeway parking lot. It was at that meeting Willamette Christian Church declared its interest in leasing a site for its own use on Sundays and in running a drop-in teen center after school.

Soon after, the city granted the church a one-year temporary use permit, and space was allocated at the Cascade Summit shopping center. By the fall, the Summit’s doors were open.

At the Summit, students were able to gather in a warm and inviting space, designed with them in mind. Video game consoles attached to oversize television screens beckoned. Popular music blared from speakers. Open seating invited students to sit, snack, chat or use the center’s WiFi connection.

Those elements have stayed the same, with a minor change in the center’s operating hours — the Summit now closes at 5:30 p.m. instead of at 6 p.m. And a new adult is in charge during those open hours. Cory Rossnagel, a YMCA of Columbia-Willamette employee, no longer greets kids at the Summit and banters with them during their stay.

Instead, Sierra Wilson oversees the center while the middle-schoolers are there. Wilson is a paid intern working for Willamette Christian Church, the leaseholder for the space the Summit occupies at 22220 Salamo Road and the current provider of the after-school program. The church is located across Salamo Road.

“When we started, the church had the space and said, ‘Let’s get a group together to program it for kids.’ The Y was the obvious operator,” said Anthony Hall, executive director for YMCA of Columbia-Willamette.

The church and the YMCA formed a partnership with the hopes that the city and the school district would also sign on. The church retained control of the space and paid rent and utilities. The church’s director of outreach, Sheri Oswald, said those bills cost the church $100,000 per year. Last year, the YMCA paid $6,000 in rent for its use of the space during after-school hours and for some special events like leadership meetings and spent $15,000 on staff for the teen center.

Two potential supporters, the city of West Linn and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, previously declined to offer financial support.

The city had provided a $1,300 grant before the center opened last year. However, the city rescinded that grant and pulled out of the teen center’s advisory group when national nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the city council listing concerns about the separation of church and state and threatened a lawsuit.

Gaining meaningful support from the school district was also challenging, Oswald said.

“They were supportive but couldn’t be a full partner because we were serving only part of the school district,” she said. “Realistically, it’s a little tough for Athey kids and Three Rivers kids. It’s much, much easier for Rosemont kids” because of that school’s proximity to the Summit.

“We didn’t bug the schools,” Hall said. “The city was clear that they can’t be a part of this. I know they want to be a part of it. ... There has to be that separation. The idea was it wouldn’t be a church staff.”

“We were hoping the city would sign on. We ran into a lot of hurdles with perception,” he said.

In addition to some fundraising, parents chipped in to cover the costs of running the after-school program at the Summit. The YMCA hired a grant writer for $3,000 this year who applied for a $40,000 two-year grant that would have provided funding for rent and staff. However, the grant was denied.

Hall said that after the Summit opened its doors in 2012, the team that formed the teen center quickly dissipated.

“It was the politics with the church,” Hall said. “The relationship with the church scared off the city and the school (district). Any of the possible partners were not able to help, so it was just left to the Y to fundraise for the whole thing. ... I wanted the church to help out with funding.”

This fall, Hall approached the church offering to keep the teen center running through this school year if the church waived the rent fee. However, the church opted to sever the partnership with the YMCA in September, choosing to run it alone instead.

“I’m bummed. I’m disappointed, to be honest,” Hall said. “It was a perfect need to fill and I wanted to be part of it. That’s why we came.”

According to Oswald, the after-school program remains secular, despite the church’s involvement.

“It’s not a matter of people supporting the space,” Oswald said. “It’s money. It’s rent. To make it be seen as a community entity, we would have to have another organization supporting it.”

Willamette Christian Church’s team of youth pastors always used the Summit outside of its hours of operation as a secular teen center. Now that the church is running the after-school program, church leaders have greater flexibility with the space, Oswald said. For example, youth ministers might be on-site prepping for a church outreach event during the after-school hours.

Oswald said the economic downturn might have contributed to the funding difficulties.

“A lot of it was bad timing, tough economy at this point,” she said.

“It’s always a valuable endeavor,” Hall added of the process of running a teen center. “The funding component is very difficult. This one had really good potential. A lot of pieces have to fall into place, and nobody pays to come.”

Despite the changes at the organizational level, the students at the Summit after school one recent day seemed unaware of the changes. Groups of teenagers played a ball game introduced by Rossnagel last year, while others used the video game systems or chatted in groups.

“It’s still open to the community as it was. The doors are still open,” Oswald said. “We’re hoping to get a groundswell of support.”

The YMCA is maintaining a presence in West Linn, with after-school classes as well as opportunities for no-school days offered through the city’s parks and recreation department.

“I’m very excited to be working with parks and rec,” YMCA Program Director Jennifer Lawrence said. “Getting the name and YMCA out there is a process. We have a lot of quality programming, and we’re happy to bring it to the community.”

Oswald suggested that the recent defeat of the proposed pool and recreation center in West Linn provided an opportunity.

“The fact that it got defeated, people are saying there’s not enough interest,” she said. “Now that people aren’t putting energy into the pool and rec center,” it might be a good time to restart the conversation about providing options for the city’s young population.

“We don’t have to be the ones to fill that need,” she said. “We had the space and wanted to make it available for use.”

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Anthony Hall is the husband of Tidings Editor Lori Hall.)