On the evening of Friday, February 15, the Milpitas Teen Center hosted Friend’s Day, an event to which their members could bring along non-member friends, enjoying the facilities as well as free Cold Stone ice cream.
Opened last November, the Milpitas Teen Center’s base of operations is the Barbara Lee Senior Center. Mondays through Fridays, from 3:30 to 6:30PM, high school students can come in and take advantage of access to the auditorium, the dance room, the fitness center, the game room, and meeting rooms well-suited for homework and club gatherings.
All it takes to get onboard is a free registration process, then the kids are clear to participate. A City-funded endeavor, the Teen Center was initially championed by Milpitas City Councilmember Bob Nuñez, who also encouraged them to team up with a local consultancy called Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY), which will soon be central to a weekly Life Skills class at the Center.
Steven Facio, who was at Friday evening’s event assisting City of Milpitas Program Coordinator Andrew Mendez, said in reference to the CASSY alliance, “How do kids deal with stress during college? How do kids manage anxiety? When applying to colleges, how to build a resume, how to interview, social skills, how to present yourself as a young professional…”
As of now, said Facio, the Milpitas Teen Center has over 130 members, most of whom are from Milpitas. Facio went on to share a touching story of a MHS student member whose name will be withheld, but who attends the Center’s Friday cooking classes. In the beginning, the student showed up alone and had no friends. In time, though, he thrived, learning how to be more social and building up his self-esteem.
Jennifer “Cici” Reyes teaches the aforementioned cooking class, where kids can learn how to make meals from scratch using common household ingredients. After spending 16 years as a cake decorator, Reyes started working in the Senior Center’s kitchen, where she’s been for 8 years now, playing a key role in their Nutrition program. She wants the kids to have good experiences cooking and baking, and if they can learn some good moves in the kitchen, all the better. A particular focus is placed on “dorm dishes” — meals kids can prepare on their own at college. Above all else, the cooking class is marked by a personal, familial atmosphere:
“When the kids come in, and we meet each other, and we get to know each other’s names, and they come in and tell me how happy they are…whether it’s making a mud cake from scratch or decorating a cookie…they’re very happy. And hearing them telling that to me — that’s where it’s at,” Reyes shared.
MHS senior Andrew Dinh (17), one of 13 Commissioners on Milpitas’ Youth Advisory Commission, contributes to shaping the Teen Center’s programming. He let The Milpitas Beat in on an upcoming technology-oriented event happening at the Center: “One of our big events and focus for this year actually is hosting a Hackathon here; that’s gonna be happening on March 30, and kids grades 7 through 12 can come out and show their coding skills.”
City Program Coordinator Andrew Mendez has overseen Milpitas’ Youth and Teen Programs for the past 5 years. In regard to daily Teen Center turnout, Mendez said, “I would say right now it’s up and down. Our numbers are steady, but it’s mostly groups that we’re targeting.”
Pre-established MHS clubs are being encouraged to come by the Senior Center during Teen Center hours and make use of the facilities, while perhaps picking up new members in an environment that Mendez pointed out is less formal and rigorous than school.
Meanwhile, not all Teen Center activities are intended to be educational or even extracurricular. As Mendez shared, “One of our goals is actually to do intergenerational programming…For example, the Senior Center has a thing where they have some teens that come in, and they have a table set up, and say, ‘You need help with your iPhone?’, and instead of going and waiting in the Apple store for two hours, ‘Come down here and get to meet someone in your community…’”
The idea of students helping seniors learn about technology — from smartphones to email to all points in between — came from Senior Center staff members.
Although it’s still a new feature of our community, the Milpitas Teen Center was hopping on Friday night, with dozens of kids spread about the Senior Center, taking advantage of the facilities, the food, and the festivities.
Looking out over the noisy auditorium, Facio said, “Community means you have to belong to something, right? A lot of kids suffer with belonging, being the outcast, maybe they don’t fit in. In high school there’s a lot of cliques; there’s a lot of different things that they deal with. So we just wanted to make this a place where they belong.”
To learn more about the Milpitas Teen Center, go here: http://www.ci.milpitas.ca.gov/milpitas/departments/recreation-services/milpitas-teen-center/