Second in a series looking at the state of mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in the Monadnock area.
For teenagers in the Monadnock area and beyond, the Avenue A Teen+ community center in Antrim comes to life on Friday evenings.
Avenue A, which serves more than 300 young people aged 11 to 19 annually, is a program of the Grapevine Family and Community Resource Center.
Friday night hours start at 6:30 p.m. This is a chance for teens to play pool, make music in the center’s music room, sing karaoke, or just chat . On September 23, the playful air at the center warmed up as young people flocked and were greeted by Jacqueline Roland, coordinator of the Avenue A community center. There were Oreo cookies and an assortment of drinks at the bar where a small group gathered. Some youngsters started a game of pool, while others headed straight for the music room.
One such teenager was ConVal junior Donovan Sweeney, 17, of Hancock, who played a range of songs from Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers on his bass guitar. Sweeney, who describes himself as a committed bassist in one of the bands he plays in, called himself a metalhead. He said the musical side of his family was on his father’s side.
“Music is the lifeblood of my family,” he says. “If I hadn’t chosen an instrument at 15, they would have said ‘Kid, what are you doing?'”
People come to the center and do their own things, Donovan explained between songs.
“It’s a mix of doing things on your own and doing things together,” he said. “For the most part, it’s mix-and-match.”
One of the young women in the music room, Abby Hunt, said she came to the center from New Hampton because of a local friend. She said she started playing the guitar three months ago, and on Friday night she played a song using a guitar her friend “graciously” gave her and sang “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. The song was a favorite of her mother, who Hunt said died last January.
By 7:30 a.m., the center was bustling with 17-year-old RJ Woodin (also known as “the mayor of Avenue A,” he and Roland said) sat alone near two teenagers singing karaoke. Woodin, who moved to Antrim from Peterborough earlier in his life, says he was diagnosed with autism aged 2 or 3 and started being bullied at school around 4 years old. ”
“Once I got to elementary school, the bullying really started,” he said, adding that in middle school he had had a break from the taunting, but it picked up again in high school. . “You learn to get up, brush your teeth, and move on.”
Now Woodin, who practices taekwondo, said he tries to help others who struggle with their self-confidence. He remembered a story while training at his old dojo in Jaffrey when he met a girl with special needs who wanted to do martial arts. After seeing RJ compete in a tournament, the girl’s mother showed up at the dojo and pulled him aside.
“The girl’s mother said, ‘You inspired my daughter to do taekwondo,'” Woodin said. “And when she first joined the class, I trained her and she loved every minute of it. That memory always stays with me.
One of the reasons Roland says the teen center is important is that it provides a space for young people who are becoming more independent to practice what it is to be an adult.
“Part of it allows them to create their own communities and find their own place in those communities,” she said. “I think Avenue A is a safe space for them to start that process.”
The idea for Avenue A was born in November 2006 when Grapevine’s Brown Bag Coalition, made up of representatives from schools, libraries, police departments, churches, recreation services and other civic groups, as well than The Grapevine, identified the need for a center for teenagers. and identified 42 Main St. in Antrim as an available and suitable site.
In January 2007, a committee of teens and parents was formed and 30 teens began meeting weekly with Grapevine Executive Director Kristen Vance and parents to develop their vision for the teen center and implement their first fundraiser, a 50/50 raffle. The community steering group was also formed at this time. Nine months later, in October 2007, Avenue A celebrated its grand opening.
The Teen Center is named “Avenue A” after a naming contest. The name comes from the musical “Rent”, because in the musical, Avenue A was a place where people from all walks of life could gather.
“Children meet positive adults in the community, and it’s a place where they can explore their interests through our programs,” said Roland, explaining the many programs, from woodworking and carpentry to theater projects. community, yoga and mountain biking. “They have the chance to explore new interests and find out how they can contribute. The Friday evening open sessions are a microcosm of this. You see people singing, playing pool, sharing instrumental skills, playing cards together. It’s a gift for a young person to know that his community sees him and is invested in him like we do at Avenue A.”
Avenue A’s share of The Grapevine’s budget is approximately $105,000 as of fiscal year 2022, and it receives grants from a variety of sources, including the Gilbert Verney Foundation, the Agnes Lindsay Trust, the Robin Colson Foundation and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. . Over the past few years, Avenue A has received funding from 100+ Women Who Care Monadnock, Madelaine Von Weber Trust, Cogswell Benevolent Trust and Monadnock Men on a Mission. NH Gives, a statewide giving day in June, is the Grapevine’s largest Avenue A fundraiser.
The annual Grapevine auction in November, annual appeal and Spring Walk fundraisers also support Avenue A. Avenue A also receives funding from Antrim, Bennington, Francestown and Hancock. Peterborough’s Bantam Grill is donating proceeds from its annual Beastmaster fundraiser to Avenue A this year, as it has for the past two years. Avenue A is also supported by the Lions Club of Antrim-Bennington, the Hancock Woman’s Club and the Grand Monadnock Rotary.
“I really love our teens, our volunteers and the community at large and how Avenue A intersects with all of those things,” Roland said. “The magic of Avenue A is that everyone wants to be there. And it conveys such a special energy. It really creates a great environment.
Teenagers come to Avenue A from more than 15 towns in the region, including Antrim, Bennington, Francestown, Hancock, Peterborough, Temple, Greenfield, New Ipswich, Dublin and Jaffrey. These teenagers come from six different public schools, as well as private schools. The center also serves homeschooled youth.