How to Start a Teen Center


How to Start a Teen Center

Dr. David A. Flood has over 30 years developing centers and training volunteers to work with adolescents. Dave and Antoinette (spouse), have three sons and 12 grandchildren.

The biggest obstacles to beginning a teen center may surprise you.

Many communities do not like teen centers. To many members of smaller communities, teen centers are seen as a place where troubled teens hang out in groups and they do not want teens in large numbers visible to people passing by. It is a sad reality. Larger cities do not have the same problem to such a degree but few adults want to see teens in large groups. Please do not think the teens will remain inside the center. There will be a loitering issue to deal with.

Funding is difficult. People love to hear about visions that offer youth a positive place to enjoy recreational games and the idea of mentoring troubled youth gains approval but few will give financially to such a project. Grants and government funding are very difficult to achieve no matter how much passion for success the staff exudes. Few if any grants will be offered to cover ongoing expenses. They most often are assigned to specific projects. Be realistic! Can your community fund a center?

Enlist committed adults. Teens can not successfully manage nor control a center. In my community, before I moved here, a center was closed by the city officials because teens were left to police the facility and manage its affairs. Peer pressure is a huge obstacle. Please, never underestimate the power of teens wanting to fit in!

Need Help Creating a Teen Center? Have a Small Budget? Wonder How to Raise Funds?

I have received many questions regarding "how to start" a teen center so I decided to help others interested sort through some of the many questions which need to be answered. Most of the information included on this page can apply to starting similar outreaches such as youth centers, clubs, and so on. The information provided here is merely a guide to help you think through the project.

Begin with a pen and notebook and consider these questions seriously. Too often one has a big vision and believes everything will eventually fall into place. The fact is, often the idea is great but there are not enough tools in place to bring about the project. I have watched many teen centers open and close within the first year. Many are shut down by the governing authorities because they breed illicit and illegal activities. Some are begun because a parent or minister or concerned community member sees the need but the overall stress and financial burden to keep the project running are too much for a small group of individuals. Please remember, it takes more than a concern for our youth to be successful.

I have witnessed centers that were formed by excited teens who wanted to make a difference in their community and those centers are very successful...until those teens graduate and move on. Seldom are people in place to step up and continue the project. It takes a great deal of passion and commitment to stay the course. Do you have a five-year plan? What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish in the first year? Who will work alongside you and be committed to this endeavor?

Non-Toxic was established in 1993 and the first encounter I experienced came from a man I thought would stand behind the vision to reach our youth. Rather than encourage and offer counsel, he instead offered these wonderful words of discouragement, "we'll see how long you last." He was serious. I see now why he said it but it was a poor way of encouraging an excited young man wanting to make a difference. Non-Toxic did not fail but most teen centers do. Are you prepared to be successful?

The biggest obstacles to overcome are those that may surprise you. They are:

Please read through the following questions and answer as accurately as possible. There will be some questions that may surprise you and some may not apply. Answer all if possible and brainstorm with your group to develop answers to the tough issues you will face. If you do not have a group of dedicated people willing to commit to this project for at least three years you may want to reconsider the project. The following questions are to prepare you for practical issues that may arise. Essential issues of financial accountability, a good business plan, and future funding are areas that can be addressed in another section. No matter how much money an organization receives, it will fail unless there are people who are able to work with teens on their level. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Have pen and paper ready.

  1. Are you hoping for personal financial compensation? or do you plan to be a volunteer?
  2. How many committed adults are a part of your team (three-year commitment)?
  3. How many youths are actively involved on your team?
  4. Where will the necessary money come from to fund the project over the next five years?
  5. Who will run the organization? You? A Board? Who will oversee the board?
  6. Who is the treasurer? Is there financial accountability? Are they respected in the community?
  7. How will you acquire the necessary recreational equipment, other games, soda machine or fountain or other beverage needs, etc.?
  8. Where will the center be located? Near residential areas? Near businesses? In town? On the edge of town?
    1. This is important because teens wander and residential neighborhoods do not want stray teenagers wandering through.
    2. Will the crowds that gather irritate the neighbors, and generate ill will with those living or doing business nearby?
  9. Are gangs an issue in your community? If so, how will you manage this volatile situation?
  10. Are drugs and alcohol going to be an issue you need to monitor (in the parking lot, restrooms, woods, secluded areas, etc.)? You must answer yes to this question. Plan for the worst-case scenario. There will be drugs and alcohol.
  11. Is the staff bold enough to confront teens who need redirection? Or separation from others?
  12. Is the staff gracious enough to understand that teens are going through a crisis time in their development and need a lot of understanding?
  13. Can you deal with teens going through an identity crisis?
    1. Gender dysphoria has risen by more than 600 percent among teen females. How will you unconditionally love them?
    2. One in two teens suffers from anxiety and depression. This affects teen behavior.
    3. Suicides are twice as high in rural areas than in urban areas. Did you know this? How will you educate yourself to be properly trained and then properly train others to deal with the current fluidity in the youth culture?
  14. Young men who volunteer may be attracted to teen girls- How will you address this situation?
  15. Are you trained in sexual abuse awareness by a professional staff and will all volunteers and board members be trained?
  16. Will you enjoy the opportunity to establish relationships with teens and earn their trust?
  17. Is mentoring youth your objective? Is ministry your objective? If so, how will you do it? How will you keep them coming?
    1. Why are you starting a teen center?
  18. If mentoring is not your priority is it recreation? If so, how will the center draw teens and keep them coming?
  19. How will you deal with loitering? Teens will stand outside and when they congregate in groups adults will become concerned. You need to think through this problem because it will become a problem for you.
  20. Can you earn the trust of teens? How will you earn their trust? You have to know how!
    1. Who will train the volunteers in sexual abuse awareness?
    2. Who will keep abusers away from the teens?
    3. What policies and procedures will be implemented to make grooming and child sexual abuse from happening?
      1. Abuse may not happen at the teen center but often the relationships and grooming are begun there.
      2. Peer-on-peer sexual abuse has increased by 300 percent.
      3. How will you protect teens from adults and peers?
      4. Background checks may provide the names of those who have been arrested but not those who plea down to a lesser offense, or those who are not in the criminal justice system.
      5. 90 percent of sexual abusers of children are never caught. Their names are not in the system.
      6. You will need to work closely with the police, Child Protective Services, and others to receive proper training in this area.
      7. Sexual abuse awareness training for every volunteer and board member must be required and reviewed annually.

Creating a teen outreach is an adventure! It is filled with excitement. You will be energized to express yourself and use your creativity. Some people are good at this part but lack strengths in other areas. Do you have a well-rounded board/group to help pull it all together and balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses? Surround yourself with people who are different from you. Some people are dichotomistic and some are holistic. Believe it or not, compassionate people do not always deal well with confrontation. Some personalities do not work well with teens. Some volunteers work well behind the scenes but must be kept away from teens. Some people are artistic, some are more cognitive, some are very detail oriented and some are relational. All are assets to your project as long as they are plugged in correctly. The positive encounters shared with teens far outweigh all the obstacles necessary to keep the organization going but the obstacles are very real.

Have you thought through the legal considerations?

  1. Will the organization be tax-exempt?
  2. Will you incorporate?
  3. What permits and licensing are required in your community, county, and State?
  4. Will the staff personnel pass scrutiny? Be extremely careful who works with children. A teen is legally still a child!

Getting started requires these few steps.

  1. Have a leader! Who will make this happen?
  2. Have a committed group of adults who will meet regularly to brainstorm your objective. Have an objective.
  3. Start small! You can grow and people will recognize your successes more and see your failures less. Everybody will notice the failure of a big project that gets into trouble. Build a track record of small success and you will grow.
  4. Have at least a three-year business plan. Have a budget. Know what the project will cost and know where the funds will come from to ensure the project's success.
  5. Create a board of directors that shares your vision. I am not a huge fan nor very concerned with having bank presidents and attorneys on a board as figureheads. We do not have such a board. They may help to generate some funds but the real work and successes will be accomplished by those committed to you and your vision and mission to help teens. Visions are contagious when shared with conviction, believability, and enthusiasm.
  6. Find out what teens really need. I say really because funding what they say they want may be impossible. What are the greatest needs you can meet in your community?
  7. You will need insurance.

When I started Non-Toxic, I used the public library to formulate our articles of incorporation and sought counsel from local leaders. Much of the expense can be saved if you are willing to do some research.

The areas to consider are many and this is only meant to be an aid for those who are just beginning to think through the process. If you have thought through all of these areas of concern, have in place a constitution and by-laws, and are prepared to open but still have a few questions please ask. Perhaps I went through a similar situation and can help. For legal questions please contact an attorney. Nothing on this page is meant to interpret the law or answer all questions. This page is merely an aid in helping those who want to begin a teen center and are not sure where to start. Please contact me at [email protected] and perhaps we can be of service to you in getting a teen center started in your community.

We do offer seminars and consulting services. I will come to your community and offer advice and counsel. Much of the information included on this page is presented and explained. I present a seminar to train staff and volunteers on Sexual Abuse Awareness. Questions can be asked and directions are given. There is a fee that includes travel expenses, online tools, and consulting. However, I will not do the work for you to start a center in your community. I can only offer guidance and advice from practical and educational experience. I will offer you information on many topics but the project is yours and so is all the work to bring it to fruition. Enjoy the process! You will learn much and feel you can really make the project a reality. God bless you in this endeavor!