Youth Council wants space for meetings, functions Group adviser expects membership to climb to 70 teens in September

Staff Writer

By vincent todaro

Youth Council wants space
for meetings, functions
Group adviser expects membership to climb to 70 teens in September

EAST BRUNSWICK — Members of the township’s Youth Council say the community needs a teen center to help keep kids out of trouble.

About 25 members of the Youth Council, an independent nonprofit organization that currently has 53 members, attended a June 24 Township Council meeting to voice their desire to have their own meeting place, and also to discuss the trouble that teen-agers have been getting into at the Brunswick Square Mall, Route 18.

Ashley DiStefano, a member of the Youth Council, said the huge teen-age presence at the mall is the direct result of teens having nowhere to hang out in the township. She said the kids are beginning to bother people at the mall.

"Not only are the security guards getting fed up with the mass of teens there, but the vendors and some others as well," she said.

"The scene is normally a large group of teens outside smoking cigarettes, causing a ruckus, or inside there are so many kids that you can hardly walk through the mall," DiStefano said.

At times, she said, some of the teen-agers wind up getting sent home by security guards or even get into trouble with the police.

She also said she believes East Brunswick is "behind the times," making reference to the fact that teen centers exist in smaller towns such as Highland Park and Metuchen.

Her remarks, as well as the comments from several other Youth Council members who spoke, were greeted with applause from the crowd.

The Youth Council was formed to provide social and recreational programs for its members, as well as to people in ninth through 12th grades in the township, according to its adviser, Karen Theer. It holds various types of entertainment functions, including the recent "cosmic bowling" and a psychic show, and sponsors trips to places such as Six Flags Great Adventure and Rutgers University basketball games.

Community service is also an aspect of the council’s mission. Its members logged 486 hours last year, Theer said, noting that a food drive and help with the Special Olympics were examples of their work.

Minyoung Jang, a member of the Youth Council, said the group needs its own place to have meetings, rather than sharing with others. Scheduling conflicts and other issues have made it hard for the group to share space.

"What kind of environment have you really provided if teens have no safe place after an academically challenging and stressful day at school?" she asked.

Later, Theer explained that the group sometimes meets at members’ homes, and other times at schools. Meeting at schools, however, means paying for help from an audio-visual worker and a custodian, she said.

"Wherever we go, there’s a cost," she said.

Township-owned space, Theer said, can be problematic as well, because it is often unavailable Friday and Saturday nights, when the group looks to meet.

At the Township Council meeting, Jang said that, without a safe place to hang out, frustrated teen-agers often go to clubs or parties where they encounter peer pressure and decide to use drugs or alcohol. After that, some drive home under the influence, she said.

"Our question tonight is, ‘Can you really be proud of an environment in which teens have no safe place close to home where they can find someone to talk to or just hang out without drugs?’ " she asked.

Township officials are considering providing space for teen-agers at a proposed multiuse facility that would be built at or near the Crystal Springs Aquatic Center, Dunhams Corner Road. The facility would also house a community theater, as well as providing space for other township groups.

Nicole Miller, another member of the Youth Council, said the teen-agers need a "home away from home, something where we can feel safe away from drugs and alcohol."

She agreed that teen-agers should not be hanging out at the local mall.

"Almost every Friday, some teen is walking out, not with friends, but with handcuffs around their wrists," she said.

Many parents have already volunteered to chaperone a teen center, she said.

"Those of you here tonight, please think of how we feel," she said.

Another member of the Youth Council said a teen center would also save the group money it now spends on rental costs.

She also said she is not favor of sharing a building with a theater company. She said she is an actress, but feels that the playhouse actors would not want teen-agers getting in their way as they try to rehearse.