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Around the Foothills

It came to life under the stage lights . . ., as real as the Pirate King.

March 29, 1990|DOUG SMITH

For a few minutes Monday night, Glendale already had a teen center.

It was on the west side of town in a warehouse on Glenoaks Boulevard. It was well-appointed, with everything a teen-ager would need--a soda fountain, a pool table and Ping-Pong table, a study room, a TV room and a conversation room. It had two adults on staff--a director to work with the teen-agers and an administrator to keep things shipshape.

It was open every day after school and on Saturdays, a place where a teen-ager could go for fun without running into drugs and alcohol.

It came to life under the stage lights of the Glendale Center Theatre, as real as the Pirate King.

It was between acts of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," which has been playing since February at the enchantingly Victorian theater on Orange Street downtown.

On Monday, management donated the house and the cast its performance to the Glendale Teen Support Center Inc., a volunteer group that dreams of opening a teen center by fall.

Even though it was Academy Awards night, about 400 people filled the house for the year-old group's first fund-raising event. Not quite as fanciful as the British farce on piracy, love and duty--yet clearly enough related--was the story told during intermission by Sheila Ellis and four young people who accompanied her.

Ellis is the group's founder and guiding spirit of the teen center. The youths are members of its leadership council. They spoke of the alienation, the idleness, the temptation that imperil the modern teen-ager as surely as the Pirate King stood ready to undo the daughters of the Modern Major General.

To keep the comic spirit from fading, television weatherman and Glendale resident Fritz Coleman volunteered as master of ceremonies.

Just before the second act was to begin, Coleman stepped onto the stage, turned dramatically in all four directions and said:

"I love this working in the round. I feel like . . . 'To be or not to be,' " he said to a thundering laugh. "It reminds me of being in Pirates of the Caribbean in high school."

Coleman said that in his work he is "bombarded with depressing stories about youth gone bad.. . . I think this is going to come to Glendale in the nick of time."

He introduced Mayor Jerold Milner and Councilman Larry Zarian, who each spoke briefly, pledging support without discussing specific dollar figures.

"Incidentally," Coleman said, reappearing, "so you don't have to stay up later, there will be morning fog and low clouds."

Then he called upon Ellis, a slender, intense woman in a beige floral dress. She began to describe what youths would get out of the teen center. "Self-esteem, self-awareness, a place for them to go after school, a safe environment with no drugs or no alcohol," Ellis said softly. "It's an environment that creates mutual respect, where we can learn something about each other, about cultural diversity, a place where kids can deal with their issues and talk to their peers about them."

In her unflinching use of the present tense, Ellis almost eclipsed the literal message: that the Teen Center doesn't really exist yet. It is an idea that will require $135,000 a year to operate and a building that has not yet been secured.

Ellis has three children, two already graduated from Glendale schools. She is an independent producer of business training films. Her speech is a perfect meld of a mother's care and a businesswoman's conviction. She doesn't allow herself to concede the possibility of failure.

"We have the spot that we want, a warehouse on the corner of Glenoaks and Grandview," she told the audience. "They told us that they will allow us to rent 4,000 square feet, but we don't have it yet. We're still in the negotiation stage. If we don't get that place, we'll find another place."

After her, four members of the youth council that will guide the center took their turns on stage.

Stan Phan, an immigrant from Cambodia, said he felt alone when his mother died back home.

"I was like a kid on the street," he said. "I didn't know what my goal was anymore, my purpose in life."

Now he is a freshman at Cal State Northridge.

Pam Marks, a Glendale native, had pangs of loneliness, in spite of being in school activities:

"I felt like, 'Who is going to talk to me, who is going to just sit there and listen to me?' " she said. "I didn't want them to solve my problems. I just wanted them to listen to me."

Peter Kim, who arrived from South Korea at age 3, said teen-agers "search for listeners. They can get advice from everywhere. They can get advice from the mailman. They really want listeners." Finally, Julia Postolov, who immigrated from the Soviet Union 10 years ago, said she suffered through grave self-doubt with many tears.

"I know there are a lot of other kids out there that went through similar problems," she said. "The teen center would be a place to share, a place where you can always be yourself."

The evening netted about $5,000. It's the start on which the teen center will be built by fall.

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