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New Center for Teens Needs Cash Donations to Keep Its Doors Open : Social services: Program provides a safe, drug-free place for homework, tutoring and peer counseling.

April 01, 1993|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Officials of a Glendale teen center are working frantically to keep the program alive just five months after opening its doors.

"We're having an extremely difficult time getting cash donations," said Glendale Teen Support Center founder Sheila Ellis, who began working on the idea for the nonprofit center more than four years ago when two of her teen-agers complained that there were no drug-free places to hang out after school.

"At the present time, we're operating month-to-month and we desperately need financial support from the community," she said.

A last-minute $15,000 reprieve from the Glendale Galleria and $2,000 from smaller donors came last month, just weeks before the center was to shut down. Ellis said that money is being used for basic operations as teen-agers and adults plan fund-raisers.

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Tim Meyers, the center's secretary and treasurer, said the program's $150,000 annual operating budget is based on grant funding, which he described as a "Catch 22" situation.

"The grant people don't want to take a look at you unless you have a record," he said.

So the only way to get that record, he said, was to open the doors as soon as the building was ready and hope for the best.

About $50,000 in seed funding from the city of Glendale, businesses and fund-raisers quickly ran out. Meyers said the center has $140,000 in grant applications pending, but how much, if any, of that money will come through is uncertain.

The teen-agers who use the center, located in a renovated dental office at 115 E. Lexington Drive, participate in all decision-making. The center has a snack bar with tables and chairs, a jukebox, TV room, a study room, computers and a pool table. But, Ellis said, it offers a lot more than just a place to hang out.

In addition to visiting with friends in a "safe, drug-free" place, the high school students go to the center to do their homework, get peer counseling and take extra-curricular classes, she said.

Community volunteers offer tutoring and are teaching informal classes in math, economics, French, art and creative writing.

On any given day, from 20 to 40 teens show up to use the center.

Landon David, a 19-year-old La Crescenta Valley High School student, said he's been visiting the center for the last three months.

"I'd feel really bad if it closed," he said. "There's people here I can talk to about my problems and I can do my homework peacefully and quietly. If it closes, I might be at home doing nothing, or hanging out on the streets with my friends."

"It's really cool here," agreed Mark Petty, 16, also a student at La Crescenta Valley High School. "The youth who are here are real nice; I've enjoyed talking to them. I just met four new people here today."

Ellis said visiting teen-agers learn about peer conflict management, which teaches them to deal with intimidation and problems with other teen-agers without violence. They also learn how to set goals and work toward future success.

"We don't just deal with the mainstream student," Ellis said. "We have at-risk students of all kinds who don't see past high school, or even past tomorrow. So we provide programs to inspire and empower them."

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Ellis said that, for now, the center is operating without an administrative director. The program director, who is vital to the day-to-day operation of the center--has worked for free during the last month and will begin receiving a partial salary this month.

"We've received thousands and thousands of dollars in in-kind donations, services, supplies and equipment, but our greatest need now is actual money," Ellis said. "Even though we have a beautiful center and all these great activities, if we can't pay the rent and pay our staffers, we can't stay open and that is the tragedy."

The center can be reached at (818) 547-5725.

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