The Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County will now be offering a safe place for teens to hang out every Friday evening.

MIAMI— The Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County will now be offering a safe place for teens to hang out every Friday evening.

Mackenzie Garst, the new executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County, created “Friday Fun Night” for area teens ages 12 to 18.

Garst said the idea came to life after realizing that local teens did not have a weekend hangout spot and hopes to fulfill her number one goal- more community enrollment.

“We don’t have a lot of teens in our program, and when we move to the Armory, there’s a dedicated teen room where they’ll have their own really cool space,” Garst said. “We need to start showing the community that there’s a cool place for teens to hang out.”

The new executive director reached out to the local school district and the building principals asking for their thoughts on the teen night.

“I asked them what they think of the idea to provide a cool hangout spot for kids on a Friday night, and they were like ‘please,’” Garst said. “I’m still new to the area, and I wanted to see what was already out there. From what I’ve gathered, there’s not a lot for teenagers to do.

“Some people think the club is only for kids who are enrolled in our program, and that’s not necessarily true,” she added. “The club is for all people in the community, all kids. If we can serve the needs of the community, we’re gonna do it.”

The club has gaming systems, a sound system, basketball, ping pong and pool, which can be used during the fun night. Free food will also be provided and the night will begin on March 3.

“We thought, this is attractive to teenagers, so let’s open the doors on Friday nights for extended hours and let kids hang out and do something productive rather than hanging out downtown or causing trouble at the bowling alley,” Garst said. “We’re excited about it. Hopefully, it catches on and reaches the right people.”

Extended club hours is not a problem for staff, Garst said. With the new event, the club will be open from 7 p.m. 9 p.m. every Friday.

“Luckily, my staff is always looking for extra hours,” Garst said.

The club also needs community wide support to make “Friday Fun Night” successful. Garst said the club is looking for sponsors to donate food for the teens.

“We’re looking for food donations, whether that be snack food, pizza or anything like that,” Garst said. “If there are community members or organizations that want to pitch in and partner with us to provide a fun place for kids to hang out on Friday nights, then we would love to do that.”

Any teen is welcome to attend “Friday Fun Night” and entry is only $5. They will have access to gaming systems, music, sports and arts & crafts.

As for the opinions of local teens, a majority of them are on board with the idea of having a safe, affordable place to hang out on the weekends. They also agree that it would be a great opportunity to meet new people.

“Honestly, I think it's a great idea,” homeschooled student Asha Carter, 16, said. “I feel like if Miami had a place where teens could go and feel comfortable, then there wouldn't be so many teens in trouble. I feel like a lot of the problem is boredom, if you want honesty. There's nothing to do and the things there is to do costs more than a paycheck. Sure, there's a skate park and a bowling alley but not many kids own a skateboard or have $50 laying around to bowl.

“I feel like if there was a place for teenagers to hang out, then the percentage of crimes, trespassing and such would actually lower,” she added. “On top of that, more kids are becoming homeschooled, much like myself, and it would even give the homeschooled kids a place to socialize and be safe at the same time.”

Miami High School junior Dillon Rasberry, 16, said he thinks the club’s “Friday Fun Night” is a good place for teens who are strapped for cash and want to do something fun over the weekend. Although, he wishes to stick to his own weekend routine and his close knit group of friends.

“My friends and I usually hang out with each other at one of our houses or go watch a movie,” Rasberry said. “We're pretty content with each other's company and don't usually like to be around a lot of other people.”

Commerce High School seniors Chandler Wilson, 18, works out every Friday and Stephen Blankenship, 17, plays soccer, but they both agree that they are interested in giving teen night a chance.

“It’s a good idea to help people stay out of trouble,” Wilson said.

“It's at a cheap price,” Blankenship said.

For more information on the club’s teen night, call 918-540-1641 or stop by the Miami unit at 114 First Street SE.

Spring Break

The club’s annual Spring Break will be offered for children from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on March 13-17. Enrollment is open to any Miami area children ages 6 to 18. They do not have to be currently enrolled in the after school program or be a club member.

It will cost $10 per child for the entire week and lunch and snacks will be served daily. Registration has already begun, and children can be signed up at the Miami site.

Armory Update

As for their new location in Riverview Park, Garst said the club is scheduled to move into the Armory building in May. Construction has already begun, and progress photos can be found on the club's Facebook page: “Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County.”

“They have started on the kitchen, and our kitchen equipment has been delivered,” Garst said. “They're going to get that completed and then we have some cosmetic work like getting the ceilings back in place, painting all of the walls and completing the bathrooms. It looks like we're on track to move in May, which is really exciting.”

Garst said the contractor is working full-time to get the building move-in ready. A community open house will be held in May for citizens to see and tour the reborn facility.

“We’ll have an open house that opens the doors and lets the community see the Boys & Girls Club and what it can offer,” Garst said. “We really want to start our summer program there. That would be ideal, so we can serve kids during the summer time.”

The Boys & Girls Club in Springfield, Missouri is widely known for having its club location in the city park, like the Armory, Garst said.

“It eliminates your need for a playground, it opens the club doors for any sort of community event that needs to happen because the park is right there,” Garst said. “We hope to be that organization, if people want to have a special event, they can utilize the club. We’re open to it.”

For Armory updates, Garst will be writing a monthly column in the Miami News-Record.

Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at kbarker@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.