Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer
More than 260 teenagers filled Harrold Youth Center to play games, dance and win door prizes during the TeenFest Aug. 19 in the Harrold Youth Center.
Michelle Eastburn, HYC director, said TeenFest had one of the attendance was the highest the youth center has ever seen.
Carole Hoffman, Fort Leavenworth Child and Youth Services coordinator, said TeenFest allows teenagers to meet others and form friendships while also previewing the facility. She said TeenFest is always held on a Friday night around the beginning of the schoolyear to encourage teenagers to connect with peers whom they may recognize from school. She said the event draws many teenagers new to the area because of the high annual turnover in the Fort Leavenworth community.
Hoffman explained the event had previously taken place at Merritt Lake, but hosting TeenFest at HYC allows the facility to be highlighted.
“We want them to come here after school and on weekends; that is kind of the goal of holding it here,” she said.
She said youth often attend the center because they know someone participating in its programs. Hoffman said somewhere between 25-50 eligible youth, not already a part of the HYC, register to use the youth center in some capacity following TeenFest. She said HYC is unique because, unlike child care, the youth program serves youth between afterschool activities, including off seasons for extracurricular activities and sports.
“(HYC is) a safe place for parents to know their kids can come hang out. It’s totally supervised 100 percent all the time… that’s what this allows. It allows a place that’s not as restrictive as child care, where these kids have free flow of the building. They have a calendar of events every day of the week; they go on field trips on school-out days,” Hoffman said. “It lets a teen be a teen (while staying) monitored.”
Hoffman said she enjoys seeing the teenagers make connections with each other. She said while teenagers in sixth through 12th grades are still learning about themselves, most are seasoned movers and know how to make friends quickly.
She said CYS staff members are also experienced in understanding group dynamics and how to encourage students to get involved.
One group of teenagers said they met at school and connected through siblings, but this was the first time they spent time together outside of school. They said they enjoyed playing Bingo and board games at TeenFest.
“I did not know there was going to be this many people…I came here to see other people, see friends. We’ve mostly met up with each other,” said 14-year-old Irina Crispin.
Sierra Wagner, Osage Child Development Center homework technician, said she and other volunteers managed occupancy by gradually admitting and releasing teens in and out of the building.
“It’s exciting when the kids show up,” Wagner said. “I think it means everyone is willing to come back together and be part of it. There are so many new kids that I’ve never seen before, so being able to have them here and meet new people… I think it will be awesome for them to create a community.”
She said it was interesting to see teenagers come in alone and leave laughing with others after the event.
For more information about Harrold Youth Center, visit https://leavenworth.armymwr.com/programs/youth-centers or the HYC Facebook page.