Instead of having a teenager return to an empty home after school, imagine if you could create an ideal alternative: a safe place with adult supervision, peer interactions and homework help. A place where teens learned healthy eating habits, career exploration and had volunteer opportunities. No need to imagine; such a place exists at EDGE Teen Center.
Situated between the two campuses of Lakota East High School, EDGE Teen Center is adorned with corrugated steel and murals. The large space includes a classroom, an open hangout area, a video gaming spot, and a student-run cafe. On afternoons during the school year, it also includes 100 or more teenagers at a time, from Lakota East and other area high schools.
While these students may choose EDGE because it's a fun place to spend time after school, EDGE also strives to be a safe-haven for teens and provides programming which positively impacts their lives.
Brenda Yablonsky, Executive Director, explains their philosophy: “Teenagers are old enough to be home alone, so if you make it fun, they will come. Then, you can invest in them through great programming."
A variety of relevant programs are available at EDGE, so students can participate in activities that appeal to them. They can also work on homework and socialize during their time at EDGE, getting to know other students from their school and surrounding areas.
“You see a ripple effect when students are excited about a particular program. We have seen a lot of interest in our community service lately; in the last year, 400 students have volunteered 4,200 hours." –Annie Droege, Teen Center program director
The students themselves echo the benefits of community service volunteering.
“The EDGE has helped me to become more confident in my abilities and to continue to come out of my shell,” says Alana, a junior at Lakota East. “All of the volunteer opportunities I have taken part in have helped me to feel more comfortable in my community as well.”
Other popular programming includes visits with a licensed counselor from Focus on Youth, who is available to students one-on-one and for group discussions about mental health topics important to teens.
“We want to teach coping skills, resiliency, and how to be happier teenagers,” Droege explains.
Beyond the programming, AmeriCORPS volunteers and full-time staff members are daily presences in the lives of these teens. Additionally, local businesses provide volunteers to be positive adult supervisors who are willing to lend a listening ear.
“The relationships [they build here] are what keep them coming back,” Yablonsky says.
“The staff is beyond friendly and inclusive,” says Jaden, a senior at Lakota East. “No one is left out and everyone is welcome.”
EDGE offers evening programming over the summer, creating a way to maintain those relationships from the school-year programs. These events, called EDGE at Night, happen on Thursday evenings in June and July.
As an independent nonprofit, EDGE covers the expenses for the center and programming through fundraising. In addition, they always accept donations to their EDGE Scholarship Fund, which covers the small annual fee for participants who cannot afford it, so EDGE never has to turn students away. If you are interested in contributing to EDGE Teen Center, becoming a volunteer, or enrolling your teen, visit their website. EdgeTeenCenter.com