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Teen outreach receives $30,000 grant

LAKEWOOD RANCH — With plenty of wide-open spaces and few big-city lights, teen activities in East Manatee can be hard to find.

For that reason, the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund is awarding a $30,000 grant for the third consecutive year to a teen outreach program at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA.

It is the largest grant awarded annually by the fund.

“Our research in this community said it wanted something for teens,” said Cathy Layton, fund president. “The YMCA has done an awesome job.”

Brian Johnson, teem outreach director, said a teen once told him that the “root of all evil is boredom.”

That teen was wise beyond his years, Johnson said.

The YMCA has put together a program of activities for teens that are fun, but also teach life lessons, he said.

Currently, the teen outreach includes a mentoring workout 9-11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday to keep teens mentally and physically in shape.

Basketball and flag football are on the agenda 11 a.m. - 1 p.m, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Adventure Park and Summerfield Park, Johnson said.

“It’s neat to see those parks used as parks,” Johnson said, adding that prior to the outreach, a few teens might be at the park, but they weren’t engaged in organized activities.

Once a month, the YMCA holds a “fifth quarter” gathering, an event originally started during football season to follow the fourth quarter of play. Teens are invited to the YMCA 9 p.m. to midnight for pizza and games, providing an alternative to drinking and driving after a game. Fifth quarters can include anything from skate park, to dodgeball, DJ, music and refreshments. The event attracts between 50 and 250 teens.

Mixed with the activities is something Johnson calls “cooler time,” when counselors talk to teens about the importance of making good grades, and making wise choices in life.

During the school year, Johnson will also visit area schools to talk to teens and tell them about the outreach program.

Scott Morin, executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Branch YMCA, said a teen center is envisioned in a projected $2.1 million expansion of the branch YMCA.

The realization of the expansion has been delayed by the sour economy, but Morin is optimistic that fundraising will improve in 2010 and help the YMCA get the final $800,000 it needs for the project.

The facility stays so busy with 2,400 family units using it, Morin said, that “we’re multitasking with the space.”

Already, many teens drop in at the YMCA after class from nearby Lakewood Ranch High School, and the teen center would be designed expressly for them.

“Teens are at a pivitol time in their lives,” said Sean Allison, president and CEO of Manatee YMCA. The $30,000 grant allows the YMCA to “build a network of support for teens.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.