State-of-the-art youth center opens
Local youth play a game of pool while parents, the command staff and civilians explore the new youth center Nov. 30.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 6, 2012) -- Fort Rucker ended overcrowding issues and opened up numerous opportunities for its teen community when it cut the ribbon and began operating the new youth center on 7th Avenue Nov. 30.

The 22,500-square-foot building is one of pure activity that is one-of-a-kind for the local area, according to Pam Williams, Fort Rucker Child, Youth and School Services coordinator.

"There is nothing like it in our area, and probably nothing like it in even cities like Montgomery. It is just amazing. The children have been talking about the center opening non-stop--they are so excited. There is so much room for individual growth here," she said.

The new facility includes a full gymnasium with a rock climbing wall, a teen lounge, a demonstration kitchen, an outdoor lounge, a common area, a technology lab, an arts and crafts room, an interactive physical fitness room, a homework center and an entertainment center.

"The interactive physical fitness room will be all the latest technology for keeping teens fit and healthy. We have new abilities in the entertainment center as well. Teens can compose and record on the sound and vocal booth," she said. "The demonstration kitchen is just amazing, too, because teens can learn how to cook and be safe in the kitchen."

The center is for teens ages 11-18, with the total cost of the building being more than $6.5 million dollars with an additional $750,000 in furnishings.

The overcrowded school age center held multiple instructional programs such as the Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills program and the afterschool school-age program, but now with the new center the "logistical nightmare" of scheduling each program is in the rearview mirror, according to Williams.

"When you get that many people competing for space it is a nightmare. We've had around 50 teens every day in one cramped space, but now we have a capacity of 150," she said. "It's important for each age group to have their own space."

The capability of creating such a building was the result of the Army Family Covenant.

"When the Army Family Covenant funds became available, an opportunity was created and we demonstrated the need with the amount of teens that come every day. Now we have 10 utility buses that we go and pick up over 100 children from Ozark and Enterprise," she said.

There are 14 similar centers planned Army-wide, and according to Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, the center is the result of teens speaking up about what they needed to improve their quality of life.

"This building is the result of 10 years of work that started as an issue in the teen Family action plan and the local teens kept the matter alive with validated issues such as lack of space," said McRae.

CYSS has almost 2,500 Families enrolled with more than 4,000 children. More than 800 of those children are ages 11-18 and will use the new facility. In addition, almost 800 preschoolers, 300 kindergartners and a little over 1,000 school age children are eligible to be involved in youth sports and fitness, which will also be operating out of the building.

Eligibility for use of the facility is extended to children of active duty and retired military personnel; members of military reserve component; widows, widowers and other next of kin of military personnel on active duty at time of death; next of kin of prisoner-of-war or missing-in-action personnel of all armed services; Department of Defense appropriated fund and non-appropriated fund civilians employed at or assigned temporarily to Fort Rucker; and DOD contractors employed at Fort Rucker.

Williams said that once word begins to spread, the facility will attract teen participation.

"When teens want to be away, we hope this is the place they want to come to. Once teens see it, those who have not wanted to participate in our programs will want to because they will see they don't have to share it with 6-to-10 year olds," she said.

Though teens don't have to share the space with younger children, they are still supervised. The adult-to-youth ratio at the center is one adult to 10 teens.

"There is always an adult handy to mentor, to be a listener, to introduce an activity, and this is a wonderful opportunity for teens to get that adult interaction," said Williams.

The "first class facility," which utilizes the Boys and Girls Club of America, 4-H and Army Community Service Youth Services curriculum and activities, will help teens grow into productive adults, according to Williams, and many parents and teens agree with her.

"It's pretty interesting just how big it is. I am so surprised. There are so many things to do -- there is something for everyone. It is a safe place, too. We can stay out of trouble and our parents don't have to worry about us," said Adrienne Stanpley, a local youth.

Parents were also astounded by the variety of things for teens to do as well as the safety of the teens.

"It is money well spent. It will allow them to explore different aspects of their teen life overall. They have so much to choose from and parents can rest at ease knowing that their child is safe and well cared for," said Kimberly Eskridge, parent of a youth.

Page last updated Thu December 6th, 2012 at 12:22