With its brightly colored walls, leather couches, billiard table and bead curtain, the TEENedge “center,” feels less like a center and more like a very wholesome fraternity or sorority house.
As well as billiards, the center boasts a Wii, an air hockey table, various board games, a kitchen filled with snacks, a patio area and a big grassy backyard. Before it became a hangout for teens, the house was home to the School-Age Fun and Enrichment (S.A.F.E) before and after school care offices, a program run by TEENedge founder Marci Rubin.
When the school district took over the program and the house was no longer needed for S.A.F.E., Rubin said, she began thinking about other ways to use the space. “I really liked the property, the area and the building,” Rubin said.
It soon dawned on her that what Robbinsville needed was a teen program. Rubin also has two teenagers of her own – twin 15-year-olds – which made the idea of a teen program a natural one. “It seemed like a good transition,” Rubin said.
Rubin’s idea was to provide a space that would be open on a consistent basis so teens could come hang out, play games – and even get help with homework – in a space that would be their own. “It’s a place for teens to go where it’s fun and safe, and they can socialize and be in an environment that is confortable and feels secure, but have freedom with supervision,” Rubin said. “It gives them the opportunity to participate in activities other than what they might get in a school environment.”
Though being a member of TEENedge does require a monthly membership fee, a membership allows teens to spend an unlimited amount of time at the center, gives kids discounted rates on events and classes and includes access to TEENedge’s education center.
Running the education center is TEENedge’s education director Jennifer Marantz, an experienced teacher with a master’s degree in education from Columbia University. As TEENedge gathers more members, Marantz’s job will be to offer homework and study help on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the school year. Kids will be able to bring whatever they need help on, Marantz said, and get tutoring in a relaxed, fun environment. Many parents do not have the time or the knowledge to help their kids with their homework, and Marantz said she knows teens often don’t want their parents helping them with schoolwork. “It’s hard for teenagers to accept help from their parents,” Marantz said. As interest arises, Marantz added, TEENedge will also hold classes in specific areas such as study skills.
Marantz said she is excited about the program because it meets a need Robbinsville has. When she was a kid in Chatham, Marantz said, she and her friends would ride their bikes downtown, where they would go to the pool and the library. Robbinsville doesn’t have a town pool, however, and has few areas where kids can hang out. “It’s a genuine need in the community,” Marantz said. “I’m really excited about the prospect of this.”
Since the idea came together about a year ago, the center has held open mic nights and has given teens opportunities to get community service hours. At the Robbinsville St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Rubin said, several teens manned a kids’ table at the after party, where kids could play with spin art and get fake tattoos.
For this summer, Rubin has a teen travel program planned that will make you wish you were 16 again no matter how much you hated high school. Nine weeks of activities are lined up, and kids can pick which week they want to participate in the program. Want to go tubing in Bucks County? Play paintball? Go to the beach? Play games at iPlay America? Ride rollercoasters at Six Flags? See a Broadway show? These are just some of the activities available June 20 to Aug. 17 this summer.
TEENedge will also offer music classes, though probably not the kind of music classes most adults took as a kid. One class teaches teens how to record their own CD, how to copyright and register songs, how to book shows, how to find an audience and how to videoblog, among other things. Other classes Rubin plans to offer are beginning guitar and beginning lyric songwriting. The three classes are taught by songwriter (and record label owner) Kim Yarson, a local Jersey Acoustic Music Award nominated musician.
Despite successful events and incredibly fun sounding programs, Rubin said TEENedge hasn’t yet gained a large enough membership base for the center to stay open regularly. Since kids want to be around their peers, she said, getting teens to want to be part of the center depends on getting enough of them interested.
“It’s like the field of dreams,” Rubin said. “We’re trying to build it. You have to attract teenagers to want to be here.”