Life moves at a rapid pace for teens in Greenwich, and the Arch Street Teen Center, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, is poised to keep up with them. Arch Street’s success serves as a model for other centers around the country. It’s a safe place for teens to connect, socialize and learn, and one that has served as a model for other towns. Many factors contribute to the center’s success, but one key element is that teens set the tone. A board of thirty students from the public and independent schools in town determines which events and activities make the lineup—whether it’s a yoga session to help teens de-stress after school or an advanced hip-hop class or the coffeehouse called The Greenwich Grind. And the group is constantly working with the center director to fine-tune the programming and make sure that the activities are serving the teens’ interests.
“It’s a place for teens by teens. They do everything from the concept of what’s inside with the decoration to the weekend programs,” says Kyle Silver, executive director of the center since 1994. Teens help to select the entertainment for dances on the weekends. They painted the graffiti art that covers the walls, working with a local artist to create the colorful backdrop. They give feedback about classes to decide whether that electronic music course should extend beyond its eight-week session. “It’s always evolving. What’s hot now is not hot six months from now,” says Kyle, noting that the board meets every two weeks and stays in constant contact on social media to assess how things are going. Teen board president Alex Gibbons, a Brunswick student, adds, “It is a truly open forum with lots of opportunities for students to weigh in with new ideas.”
In spite of being such a cutting-edge facility, this center was not a slam-dunk project. In fact, those who championed the project, including Suzanne Prunier, Judy Donahue, Charlie Glazer, John Monsif and Scott Frantz (who is being honored at the anniversary event), met significant resistance when they tried to get the approval from the town decades ago. There were concerns about whether such a center was needed, whether it would resonate with teens and how
it would impact the neighborhood. It was a six-year push to get the go-ahead from the town. Megan Shattuck, who was one of the first co-presidents of the teen board and today serves on the board of directors, recalls late nights at RTM meetings as well as the reward of seeing Arch Street open. “To be part of a really committed group of teens and adults and work on building something and getting the green light to go forward with Arch Street was a tremendous experience,” says Megan who joined a group that met with Barbara Bush in Washington to celebrate the achievement of the center. She later went on to work at CNN and cover the White House.
Today, teens are inspired by what they learn at Arch Street, as it is an incubator for ideas, creative projects and innovative programming. For instance, as part of an ongoing series called Arch Street Speaks, teens met the CEOs of Vineyard Vines to talk about how they started their corporation and took it from a local business to a global brand.
In recent years the center has expanded its reach to serve the tween population, with six-grade socials when the center will bring in an obstacle course or a bounce house and introduce the younger kids to Arch Street and one another. In December, the first annual Family Winter Wonderland event catered to elementary school-age kids. And parents have also discovered the space, with Arch Street Speaks programs for adults on drug and alcohol awareness and other topics. Some nonprofits and schools rent out the center for fundraisers, contributing to the constant bustle of activity and the bottom line (Arch Street is funded through private donations).
In an age of social media when many young people find it hard to unplug, Arch Street allows teens to enjoy more face time with each other. While there’s been much attention around the downside of social media for teens and concern about overuse, the director, Kyle, points to some of the positives, in particular the window it offers to what’s on teen minds. “It’s a double-edged sword, because there’s the whole bully aspect that comes with social media, but at the same time, it’s also opening up our eyes to what’s going on in these guys’ lives, giving us more of an inside perspective,” he says. “You can look at someone’s Facebook page and see images, a reaction to something or a cry for help. Then we know this is someone we have to take under our wings. Eighteen years ago you would not have had the opportunity to see that.” Social media also helps teens from different schools—public and private or the various middle schools in town—form friendships more easily. When they meet, they share Instagram IDs and stay in contact after leaving the center.
What’s on tap for the future? Kyle says he sees filmmaking, more Internet-based shows and podcasts as areas of interest—any way that teens can express themselves and feel that their voices are heard. “It’s a very cool thing to be a teenager in 2016 and be able to create your own talk show, for instance, and put it on YouTube,” says Kyle. “It’s a whole different world from when we were growing up. The things we used to dream about have become a reality.”
Some popular events and ongoing activities at Arch Street
THE GREENWICH GRIND
A coffeehouse on the third floor where kids can hang out or do homework on Wednesday through Saturday afternoons
YOGA CLASS FOR 7TH TO 12TH-GRADERS
A yoga practice led by Megan Riley of Ashtanga CT
DEXTER’S MUSIC LAB
Electronic music classes led by a world-renowned DJ and Arch Street alumni
(SUP) class in Greenwich Harbor
TEEN MOVIE NIGHTS
Dances for 7th grade, 8th grade, high school and a 6th-grade celebration
Photographs courtesy of Arch Street Teen Center