Teenagers shooting to play late night basketball may score a few educational pointers on the side.
A program called Nightlife at the West Central Community Center offers sports and arts and crafts to teens on summer nights.
The center also sneaks in an occasional educational activity when youths least expect it.
Since the program’s start in mid-June, there has been only one workshop. But before summer’s end topics ranging from gang resistance to AIDS awareness will be covered, said Rick Harris, activities coordinator.
There is no fixed schedule so teens won’t know if there will be a pick-up game of hoops or if they’ll pick up a few tips about safe sex.
“We don’t want to get them in the habit of thinking it’s an educational night, so we won’t have a set pattern,” Harris said.
Nightlife is an ongoing summer program funded by the city to help keep teens off the streets.
Harris hopes to take things a step further by providing more positive influences on the youth who frequent the center.
“We’re looking for speakers who make it fun as well as exciting,” Harris said.
Harris has been recruiting volunteers from the community, not only to host workshops, but to serve as role models on a night-to-night basis.
One volunteer from the African American Club at Fairchild Air Force Base hung out at the center on a recent night to, if nothing else, make himself available to the teens.
“There are so many minority kids that need guidance, leadership, role models, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to talk to,” James Troutt said.
Role models are important because these are crucial times for teenagers, according to Harris.
“These kids are working for independence and going through a rebellious stage,” Harris said. “We want to get them through that stage and headed in a positive direction.
“One negative choice and you’re going to pay for it for the rest of your life.”
Youths who participate in the educational workshops and show behavioral progress will be rewarded with field trips, Harris said.
Young people who go to Nightlife are becoming more open-minded in their daily lives, said Troy Leblanc, a West Central Community Center staffer.
“They’re playing different sports, and making different friends,” he said.
LaBlanc serves as a role model in a more discrete fashion.
“Every once in a while I’ll pull a kid to the side and talk to him, but actions speak louder than words,” he said. “I talk to them on their level without drinking, smoking or cursing.”
Adam Hills, 17, comes to play basketball once a week. He said he and the staff people have mutual respect for each other. “The staff knows how to relate.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FREE FUN FOR TEENS Here’s where North Side teens can find free evening activities sponsored by their neighborhood community centers: Nightlife takes place at the West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt, weekdays from 8 p.m. to midnight until Sept 1. Youths 13-17 are invited. Teen Scene, which started July 7, takes place at Shaw Middle School, 4106 N. Cook, Wednesday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. until Aug. 19. Youths 13-19 are invited. The program is sponsored by the Northeast Community Center and Educational Service District 101.