Open Rec offers fun for youth
(From left) Twelve-year-old friends Jasmine Boyington and Kailee Heilman giggle their way through an online game during Open Recreation - open Friday and Saturday nights for middle and high school students - at the APG North (Aberdeen) youth center Feb. 22.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Safe. Secure. Fun.

These are the driving points behind the success of Open Recreation at the APG North (Aberdeen) youth center.

Open Rec offers a safe, secure and fun environment for APG youth and teens who just want to hang out with friends. Every Friday and Saturday night, from 6 p.m. to midnight, the center is open to middle and high school students.

Middle-schoolers must leave the facility at 9 p.m. and the rest of the evening belongs to the teens. Those who attend play basketball, ping pong, board and computer games. Some just sit and chat while others do homework.

The point is for them to have a place where they can relax with their friends away from home and in a safe environment, said Norma Warwick, facility director.

Open Rec started in May 2012 and has gained in popularity and participation since then.

Warwick said parents appreciate the center's safe reputation and proximity. On Feb. 22, the center hosted Friendship Night in which parents and siblings of members enjoyed a meal and social hour together at the start of Open Rec.

Normally, members just come in and make themselves at home, Warwick said.

During a challenging video game with a group of friends, Shelby Sylve, 14, said he goes to Open Rec every Friday and Saturday to play basketball and ping pong.

"I think this was a good idea because it gives us somewhere to go on Friday nights," he said.

Sixteen-year-old Indira Velez paused her ping pong game with classmate Jacob Roberts, 16, to say that she also attends Open Rec every week.

"There's lots to do here. I come here with my friends and we play a lot of board games. I agree the [center] is safe and relaxing."

Twelve-year-olds Kailee Heilman and Jasmine Boyington found a quiet corner away from the main activities to enjoy an online game on their cell phones.

"I come here to get help on my homework, and to have fun," Heilman said.

"It's fun," said Boyington who added that they also play board games while chatting about their day. "It's like being grown up and going out Friday night."

Middle-schoolers Elizabeth Thompson, 14 and Leanna Foss, 13, who are neighbors as well as classmates, said they spend a lot of time catching up on their studies as they played a Spanish challenge game. One would write a word in Spanish and the other had to write its meaning in English. The two are enrolled in AVID -- Advanced Via Individual Determination -- at their middle school and both said they plan to attend a magnet school in the Fall.

The girls said they do everything together, including basketball practice and Open Rec.

"We're here every Friday," Foss said. "Sometimes we have up to two-and-a-half hours of homework. It's challenging but this is a good place to do it."

"It's worth it too," added. Thompson, "but we don't just study. We play games on our phones too, though they're mostly skill games."

Warwick said enthusiasm for the program picked up after attendance was opened to guests of members, and after the Department of the Army streamlined the registration process.

"Now we give the registration packets to the child for the parents to fill out and the child can return it. Then, we contact the parents to verify the information and they're registered," she said.

Very often, members will bring guests who don't even realize they are eligible for membership, she added. "When we question them and find one or both of their parents work on post, we hand them a registration packet too."

"It's good we can do this for our kids," she said. "This is an outlet that's social and fun."

She said CYSS has solicited input from members through focus groups and surveys to learn what types of programs and activities they wanted.

"That's how the [9 p.m.] rule came about. High schoolers don't want to hang out with middle schoolers for very long, so after nine, only high schoolers are allowed in the building."

One such high-schooler, 18-year-old Chris Carrier, returned to the center Friday night after walking his 11-year-old brother home. Carrier said he's been attending Open Rec since it started back in September after the summer break.

"I like playing basketball and just hanging out with my friends," he said.

Potential plans for Open Rec include expanding the hours and adding more programs teens are interested in, said Warwick.

"We listen to our kids in terms of what they want to do," she said. "It's really all about them."

Page last updated Thu February 28th, 2013 at 00:00