New teen center will open Monday after school

by: VERN UYETAKE - Sherri Oswald, Willamette Christian Church outreach director, enjoys the view from the loft at The Summit.Despite a last-minute stumbling block, the final pieces are falling into place for West Linn’s new teen center.

The space is almost fully furnished and a program director has been hired. Now the center’s creators are anxiously awaiting the kids, who should arrive when the doors open after school Monday.

A partnership between Willamette Christian Church and the YMCA, the teen center is starting off small but hopes to gain momentum.

The center, located at 22220 Salamo Road in the Cascade Summit shopping complex, will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. each school day. There, middle school students can do what they do best — hang out.

This summer, the church received city approval for a one-year temporary use permit to use the space (formerly Healthy Pet) as a middle school teen center, now called The Summit. It also received a $1,300 grant for programming from the city.

The teen center’s creation was partly in response to an issue of students loitering at the shopping center after school. Hanging out at the Cascade Summit shopping complex has become a tradition for middle school and high school students, who pass through the area en masse after school and in the summer.

Students from Rosemont Ridge Middle School, as well as other schools, have hung out at Safeway and the surrounding businesses since Cascade Summit opened. Several attempts have been made to deter kids from congregating there, but all have had limited success.

The church has leased the 3,300-square-foot space to not only provide a place to kids to hang out after school, but also to use the space on the weekends for its middle school youth services. Because the building will have secular and nonsecular uses, some have questioned the city’s involvement in the project.

On Sept. 28, the city received a five-page letter from an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation accusing the city of granting an unconstitutional grant to a religious organization.

“The center, which is now city funded, will be a new way to reach children who would otherwise not attend, or not be permitted to attend, WCC (Willamette Christian Church),” the letter states.

To avoid possible legal implications, the city asked for the $1,300 back from the church last Friday. The church complied.

City Councilor Teri Cummings also raised allegations of mixing church and state during a Monday city council work session. Cummings said she was disappointed in the lack of transparency of the teen center and the city’s involvement with it, accusing Councilor Mike Jones of not being upfront about being a member of Willamette Christian Church.

However, Jones said he did not start attending the church until this summer and did not join the church until after the city council voted to approve the $1,300 grant.

“I had no relationship with the church until early summer,” Jones said. “What I did in my mind was ethical, honorable and completely transparent.”

by: VERN UYETAKE - The new teen center is filled with movable benches and cubes so middle school students can create their own seating arrangements.

The Summit

The teen center was designed with middle-school-age kids in mind. There are benches, boxes, comfy chairs, cushions and nooks and crannies. There are even stools that raise and lower and swivel.

“The girls wanted barstools that go up and down and spin,” said Sherri Oswald, the church’s outreach director.

When you enter the space, there is a trendy downtown loft feel to it with exposed ducts on the ceiling and a raised seating area in one corner. Four large flat-screen TVs adorn the walls, a stage sits at one side and all of the furniture can be rearranged.

There are cellphone charging stations along one wall and the space has Wi-Fi for today’s tech-savvy kids.

For the active types, there are two sets of beanbag toss, a pingpong table, an indoor Nerf basketball hoop and a real basketball hoop out the back door.

Students can also use the paved space behind the teen center, and a set of stairs is being built by the city to lead down to Tanner Creek Park.

To help protect neighboring businesses, there are acoustic panels on the walls and a built-in 1-foot buffer between the walls of the next-door business. The space will comfortably accommodate 100 people.

All of this work could not have happened without the help of countless volunteer hours, according to Oswald. Volunteers from high school students on up helped paint the walls, install the pallet-covered loft, build the furniture and decorate.

On one wall is an art display donated by Anthropologie in Portland’s Pearl District. The store has agreed to donate its art as the store goes through its installations, according to Oswald.

As the space gets more settled and more funds are raised, Oswald would like to add Xbox Kinect games and a vending machine and to expand the center’s programs and offerings. However, first and foremost, the space is meant just to be safe venue for students to congregate.

The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette will operate the teen center, and it recently hired Cory Rossnagel as the part-time program director.

“There’s no curriculum, no set plan or orchestrated events. It’s simply to connect with the kids and supervise them,” YMCA Executive Director Anthony Hall said. “We just want kids in a safe space.”

The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette currently operates a traditional teen center in Sherwood and offers teen programs and drop-in centers in Clackamas County and Estacada.

“It’s a slam dunk,” Hall said of the teen center. “There’s always kids and there’s always a need.”

West Linn Recreation Director Ken Warner said the YMCA is a welcome entity in the partnership, offering the buffer between church and state.

Warner said the teen center is a unique opportunity to show how a variety of interested parties can work together to solve a community issue.

“We’ve been at city hall and have seen (the issue) for years. It’s kids looking for something to do. We were anxious to do something,” Warner said.

“It’s not often you see the church, the city, the community all get together on the same project with the same agenda,” Hall said.

Across the board, everyone involved with the teen center is excited for the doors to open and for the kids to see the place. Oswald said that whenever she is at the site working, kids come peeking through the curtains trying to see the place.

“I’m excited about seeing a room full of students,” Oswald said. “This is the first time they’ve had a space designated for them.”

“I’m excited to meet the kids. I want to see it full,” Hall said.

As the teen center grows and learns what the kids in the area want, the center may add additional hours and events, such as concerts, open mike and movie nights, as well as summer offerings.

“If we can get the funds we need, there’s plenty of work to do full-time, year-round,” Hall said.

The church is using $75,000 for startup costs and will spend $100,000 annually to lease the space. Funding of the program director is an ongoing effort.

A grand opening celebration is in the works.

For more information about the teen center, visit To make a donation toward the teen center, contact Oswald at 503-656-2328. To sign up for The Summit’s text service, text THESUMMIT to 68398.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Recreation Director Ken Warner looks out where stairs are being installed behind the teen VERN UYETAKE - The church used old pallets to create an urban loft atmosphere at The VERN UYETAKE - Flat-screen TVs and modern lights adorn the walls at the new teen hangout in West Linn.

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

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