Community center designed for, and by, area teens reaches financial milestone, to open this summer

Teens discuss what's next as plans for the River Rec Teen Center move forward.

The community of Marine City is listening to its teenagers, and the River Rec Teen Zone is the result. The community and recreation center for St. Clair County residents aged 12 to 18 years old is scheduled for a summer opening.

That need for a community center for teenagers, wasn't identified by RRTZ chairperson Laura Scaccia or her colleagues, nor area teachers or parents. It was identified by the teenagers themselves.

Teens are working hard to design a perfect community center for area youth.One teenager, the now 19-year-old Kyle Pond, had been a bit of a troublemaker as a student at Marine City High School, and was kicked out in the fall of 2015. Enrolling in the alternative school program at Riverview East High School, Pond was assigned the task of a passion project. It was Pond who identified the need for a teen center, and with the help of teachers and community leaders, got the ball rolling for the RRTZ.

The mission of the River Rec Teen Zone is to provide a safe place for teens where self-discovery and collaboration reach beyond barriers. Providing a safe place is key; in surveying 500 area students, Scaccia says that 95 percent of respondents said that the No. 1 thing they're looking for is a safe place to hang out.

"This whole process has given us ideas of what our community is lacking for our young people," says Jason Stier, principal of Riverview East High School. "And it lets teenagers feel more a part of the place where they live."

Giving area youth a sense of ownership in the RRTZ has played a big part in establishing the teen center. Nearly every aspect in the center's design has been determined by the wants and needs of the people that will ultimately be the ones using it.

Students decided what sort of computers and equipment were needed in the forthcoming tech zone. And they're the ones that Teens listen eagerly to the next steps for the River Rec Teen Zone.requested the cafe, gaming area, and physical fitness area. Also coming is a Zen space, which will include yoga and meditation programming, a community resources and connections area, chill zone, and art zone.

Scaccia is building partnerships with local businesses, which she hopes will help introduce kids into the workforce and, eventually, entice them to stay in Marine City. There will be tutoring services and lessons on resume writing. Providing mentorship to students is a big component, as well.

"What adults want for teenagers and what teenagers want for teenagers can be two different things," says Scaccia. "We're giving kids the feeling that they have skin in the game. The adults are just the facilitators."

Located in the historic old city hall building, where renovations are currently underway, the River Rec Teen Zone is celebrating a financial milestone. Enrolled in the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Public Space Community Places placemaking initiative, the RRTZ was given a March 23 deadline to raise $30,000 via the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity. Should they reach that goal, the MEDC would then offer the non-profit organization a $30,000 matching grant.

Jason Stier, right, is working with area teens to create the River Rec Teen Zone.Not only has RRTZ reached its $30,000 goal before its deadline, the RRTZ has bested it by several thousand dollars, says
 Scaccia.

For Scaccia, the support the young organization has received from the community further emboldens their mission.

"It's incredible. I get goosebumps when I think about the community's support," Scaccia says. "When you know there's a need in the community and then they embrace your idea, you know it's going to be a win-win."

River Rec Teen Zone will be located at 300 Broadway St. in Marine City.

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