When Robert Humphreys first stepped into the Street Scene Teen Center 30 years ago, he was dismayed to see that it was a dark room with a floor buried under three inches of mud.
He wanted the space to become an after-school hangout for middle school and high school students, so they stayed off of the streets. However, the last three teen centers had only stayed open for a few years at a time, so he knew he faced a challenge.
With the help of the community, the space was transformed into a well-lit, furnished area with multiple activities for teenagers to participate in. It officially opened March 15, 1985, and it will celebrate its 30th anniversary from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 14.
Teenagers, adults who used to come to the center, and members of the public are invited to a party that will feature music, dancers and poetry slams. Photo albums showing the center’s history will be on display, and Humphreys hopes that a video project with interviews of 30 former and current attendees will be ready to present. The party will be held in the center, which is located at 179 East Franklin St. in the basement of the post office.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt signed a proclamation declaring the week of March 15 to 21 “Street Scene Teen Center Week,” recognizing the center for serving “our teens and pre-teens with positive recreational, educational, and social activities, free of drugs and alcohol, five weekdays, two weekend nights, for a total of over 26 hours per week.”
The proclamation also states that the center has shown presentations about issues affecting teens, given young artists a venue where they can perform in front of others, and provided a location that is dedicated to teenagers in a city that is mainly designed for college students.
Currently, the center has a wide range of facilities, including a pool table, gaming center, computer lab, dance floor and music room. On weekdays, the center opens at 3 p.m., and teenagers come by to do their homework and eat. Afterward, they play video games, work on art projects or perform music.
Humphreys, who is now the president of the board of Street Scene Teen Center Inc., estimates that 25 to 200 students use the center each week. Over the course of a year, thousands come through. About two dozen adults help run it and organize events. UNC sends college students to help with homework and teach good study habits.
Lucy Farrow, a seventh-grader at Phillips Middle School, has come to the center ever since she can remember. She would recommend the center to other children her age, because she said, “I like the other kids that are here.” She particularly enjoys the music program that she participates in every Tuesday, because she loves to sing.
Valerie Horton began working at the center this year. She describes it as a “safe haven for kids … to come that don’t normally have anyone to help them.” She would like more people to know about it and more teenagers to come. “I don’t know how well it’s advertised,” she said, although she noted that parents of middle school students can register their children for free through Chapel Hill’s WebTrac system.
Although Humphreys doesn’t know exactly what the future holds for the teen center, he would eventually “like to see it full of kids … under no pressure at home, enjoying growing up in Chapel Hill.”