'Non-boring' Buxton's success

"Teen Center director Shannon Buxton supplies the right atmosphere that makes the center a place kids want to hang out.She is an amazing person, said Bainbridge High School senior Marissa Simcoe. She comes up with not-boring things for kids to do that are still legal. She's everybody's mommy.Since 1992, Buxton has set the tone for the Teen Center, housed on the Bainbridge High School campus but run under the aegis of Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District. The park district owns the building, but leases the grounds from the school district. The lease is year-to-year, and Buxton anticipates a possible move perhaps within five years.The Teen Center organization itself is independent and non-profit, but Buxton and the other part-time center personnel are considered park district staff.Buxton focuses more on the teens than she does on paperwork, however. As an administrator, I find myself behind in those tasks because I spend that time with the kids, Buxton said. Kids come in because their friends are here, because they have nowhere to go, because they are connected to staff. We don't care what the reason is.The center opens after school, and hosts a population of about 125 kids a month. Kids use the center consistently, many starting as freshmen and attending through high school.A board of five teen officers, five adults and teen members-at-large governs the Teen Center, making program and policy decisions.For instance, they must decide which applicants to accept from the diversion program that has kids do community service instead of becoming enmeshed in the court system. There are basic foods at the center and kids can make themselves a meal.They also clean up after themselves - sort of. I can bribe the kids who don't have money, Buxton said. We use the barter system - cleaning for snacks. The work gets done if they're hungry enough. There are low-key activities planned throughout the month, but no pressure to participate. The watchwords, according to Buxton, are warmth and lack of pressure.When I was a freshman, I found the Teen Center was the place where you'd be accepted no matter what you thought or what you looked like, BHS senior and Teen Center board president Greg Hoesechen said.Buxton notes that kids who might not speak to each other in the halls of the high school can amicably share a pool table at the center. She finds it ironic that while the island is more developed than a decade ago, there are fewer teen-friendly spaces, such as the bowling alley and various eateries.Buxton and Hoesechen both emphasize that there aren't enough places for kids to be.Buxton cites the proposed skate park as an example. For 10 years people have talked about a skate park, Buxton said. They're short only $20,000, they have a space at Strawberry Hill and an architect.It's ridiculous not to have it done by now.Buxton believes that many adults fear violence in kids, and that concern may dampen desire to see teens collect in groups. However, the Teen Center has enjoyed strong community support. One third of the center's operating funds come from Bainbridge Foundation, one-third from the city and the rest from the park district in staffing and in-kind services such as maintenance. The level of support from Bainbridge Foundation fell $7,000 this year, though, from the year before. Buxton speculates that new islanders may not know the Teen Center exists, or what it is about. She also says that the school district's long-range planning for the area around the center may include reducing traffic flow, which might isolate the center and necessitate a move. I know Teen Center builds the lives of the kids, I know it makes a difference, she said. We need enough community support so that we'll still survive. I don't have a problem with relocating; I have a problem with ceasing to exist. "

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