FORT STEWART, Ga. - Gavin Thigpen was wearing a big grin when the gold scissors snipped the long red, white and blue ribbon, causing it to fall to the ground in pieces.

Gavin, a regular and enthusiastic guest at the Youth Activity Center on Mindoro Loop, was one of three youths who helped former Garrison Commander Col. Kevin W. Milton and others cut the ribbon to mark the grand opening of the facility for Middle School and Teens in grades 6-12.

Lyrick Dent, 16, who sang the National Anthem as part of the ceremony, and Hannah Tate, 15, were the other teens who took a front-and-center role when dignitaries gathered for the ceremony June 22.

Gavin, 12, had not expected to be a part of the ribbon-cutting, but was excited when he was called up to join Lyrick and Hannah in doing the honors.

He calls the newly constructed, state-of-the-art Youth Center "an amazing place. It's a great place for teens to hang out. I have lots of fun. The other kids are very, very nice here."

Gavin loves art -- "any kind of art"--and will head for the art room first at the center. If the art room isn't open, there's shooting pool, Foosball or the computer room.

His parents, Staff Sgt. Charles "Chuck" Thigpen and Sarah Thigpen, were proud Gavin had been a part of the ribbon-cutting and praised staff and teen volunteers for making the center a "safe, fun environment" for Gavin and the other youth.

Hannah, who visits the center nearly every day, likes the openness of its design.

"The last center had a lot of rooms and nobody was really with everybody. At this center, all the rooms are open and everybody can hang out with everybody without going into a whole bunch of rooms."

Her favorite spot is the teen room. "They have a pool table, an Xbox and a whole bunch of board games and card games. It's just a fun place for teen-agers to be."

It was "kinda cool" standing next to Col. Milton and being a part of the ceremony, she said with a smile.

Hannah, daughter of Sgt. (E-5) Gordon and Camie Clark, is a rising sophomore at Bradwell Institute. Sergeant Clark said he thinks the center is "one of the best services offered, although it is at times under-utilized. I think it's a great program."

Sergeant Clark added that, "I know that when I send my kids there, I don't have to worry about what they are doing and what they are getting into."

Lyrick, daughter of Sgt. Crystal Dent-Reed, is a rising junior at Liberty County High School and president of the Youth Choir at Baconton Missionary Baptist Church in Allenhurst.

The ribbon-cutting was the first time she had sung the National Anthem at a public ceremony, although she had been preparing to sing it for a Liberty High event. The initial nervousness she felt about singing the anthem in public soon went away, she said.

Lyrick said she appreciates the fact that the new teen center is so up-to-date.

Sergeant Dent-Reed said she considers the Youth Center "a great improvement, something that is going to be there for the kids coming up." She is proud of the center and proud of the Hired! Apprentice program that helps teens such as her daughter "prepare for the next step in life."

The 19,570-square-foot Youth Center is in building 5655 at 62 Mindoro Loop. Its amenities also include a multipurpose court, demonstration kitchen and a computer/tech lab. The center is chartered member club of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Opening of the Mindoro Loop Youth Center allowed the previous center, located in building 7338, to become the Bryan Village Youth Sports and Fitness Center.

Also taking part in the ribbon-cutting were Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Director Linda Heifferon, Stewart-Hunter Child, Youth and School Services Division Chief Dagmar Peguero-Olinger, Youth Center Director Gary Williams and Garrison Command Sergeant Major Louis C. Felicioni.