NEW PORT RICHEY – Anyone who has memories of being between the ages of 12 and 18 can recall those years of testing the boundaries as one treads across the line from child to adult.
In years past, those “tests” were mostly innocent ones with not much physical or emotional threat to the child or others.
Today’s world offers tests which can be more damaging to the child and to society in general, especially at a time when many of those children have no where to go or no supervision between the end of the school day and the arrival of working parents back to the home.
That is the gap the founders of Pasco Youth Haven wanted to fill when the idea came to establish a youth center that would be welcoming, fun and expose the youth to positive lessons about growing up.
It also wants to keep them out of trouble.
The center, at 5622 Marine Parkway, Unit 9, is open 2-6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. There is no charge.
The center is a total peer-only experience for its registered members, offering everything from virtual reality games to pool tables.
But, the center also offers opportunities by giving classes in acting, art, and music – developing talents which the teens are ready to show off to their peers during special performances and events.
A visit to the center may mean just “hanging out” and talking – not texting – with friends both old and new.
There is even a room where the teens can inscribe their names and a message right on the walls.
While the idea may seem a bit disorganized and undisciplined, it is actually quite the opposite.
Anthony Losacco, the founder of Pasco Youth Haven, said the idea is to have a non-pressured place were the teens can just “be themselves” in a safe and positive way.
“We are a youth center with life skills, educational programs and mentoring,” he said.
“While we do have volunteer adults who are here, we find the teens do a pretty good job of policing themselves,” Losacco said. “There have been a few who have been told to leave, but the difference is we follow them out and talk to them and try to find out exactly what might be the problem with that person.”
The center itself does not offer any counseling tools of sorts but does have the ability to put a teen in contact to the proper agency when troubles at home or school are identified by the volunteers.
“Each of the kids are given an ID card and all of our volunteers are required to pass a Level II background check,” Losacco said. “So, we know exactly who is here and why they are here.”
Most of those volunteers have turned out to be parents who brought their teens to the center and found themselves enjoying the experience.
The center opened its doors in April and has already reached its capacity of 32 registered teens it can serve with its limited resources.
“We have had to turn some away and we hate that,” Losacco said. “I have seen kids’ lives transformed just by having somebody to listen to them, and we strive not to talk to them like an adult.”
He recalled one youth who left and, upon having a “peer conversation,” discovered his family had been living in a hotel with no food.
“We connected them with the Rap House, and we’re giving them food and clothes and YFA is going to get the family housing,” Losacco said. “That’s how it works. We help to network.”
RAP House is a runaway and youth crisis program run by the New Port Richey-area nonprofit agency Youth and Family Alternatives.
“Being here is also a break for them,” he adds. “One of our most popular rooms is one where they just come in and talk, actually talk to each other.”
The center’s space in the Marine Parkway building, which is shared with the school Dream Academy, has been donated. The center is now seeking assistance in helping to expand its space and bring in some full-time, paid staff members to increase the number of local teens it can serve.
“We are within distance of three schools and those kids who have come through the summer months will more than likely be coming back after school starts, and they will be bringing their friends, and that’s what we want to be ready for,” Losacco said.
More information about the center and how to help can be found at pascoyouthhaven.org or by calling 727-245-9744.