Wake County

The Boys & Girls Clubs opens new Teen Center in Raleigh

Older teens and a few staff members play volleyball Tuesday at the new Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs Teen Center, known as “The Club.”
Older teens and a few staff members play volleyball Tuesday at the new Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs Teen Center, known as “The Club.” cseward@newsobserver.com

The new teen center being dedicated on North Raleigh Boulevard on Thursday is more than a place to play basketball or get help with homework.

The Ralph E. Capps Teen Center, known as “The Club,” is a dreamland for energetic, visionary teens. In addition to a gymnasium and study lounge, there are photography and recording studios, a hair styling and barbering salon, a fitness center and art studio. There’s even a gleaming, stainless steel restaurant where teens will do the cooking.

The center’s amenities support its underlying mission: Provide a fun training ground for Raleigh youngsters and teach them new skills behind the camera, on the sound board, above the barber’s chair and in the kitchen that will enable them one day to give back to the community.

“It’s a fun place, but it also gives them an opportunity to inherit the skills and attitudes they need to become responsible adults,” said Ralph E. Capps, president of Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs. “These are the last years of their childhoods. Obviously, we are committed to making sure we impact these young people’s lives.”

Though the formal dedication takes places Thursday, the club opened Aug. 25, the first day of the school year, and already teens have found their place here.

Take Idris Brewer, a 15-year-old Broughton High School student, holding court in the center’s recording studio this week, waiting to drop a hot rap song.

“I’m next,” Brewer announced with the confidence of an up-and-coming Jay-Z. “You know the master got to drop bars.”

Nate Myers, who teaches at Holly Ridge Middle School, volunteers most afternoons at the recording studio. He hovered over a computerized sound-mixing board, while nearly a half-dozen boys waited to take their turn at the microphone.

Amari Smith, a 14-year-old Enloe student, announced that he was next.

“Here I can express what I do,” Smith said. “I don’t have to be shy about it.”

Jahsha McKinnon, a 14-year-old student at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy, sat next to Myers. She is learning how to edit photos with photography instructor Shaun King, who owns a studio in Raleigh.

“It’s a little hard, because I’m not used to the technical stuff,” McKinnon said. “But I am really committed to learning this stuff.”

The club has 294 members, 127 of whom enrolled since the first day of school. The center primarily serves young people living in neighborhoods along the North Raleigh Boulevard corridor. Membership is $7.50 a year.

“Our clubs are placed in neighborhoods where they are most needed,” said Boys & Girls Club spokesman Daniel Pietrzak.

Club members and others who patronize the center’s “Pro-Teen Grill” can enjoy Internet access and shows on a flat-screen television while munching on modestly priced food such as burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza slices and nachos, all prepared by club members.

“Hopefully, we can get to the point where the kids are preparing dinners every month for community leaders so they can see what we are doing here,” Pietrzak said.

The Teen Center cost $3 million and was financed through the agency’s Be The One Capital Campaign, which kicked off in late 2009.

Capps has been president of the Boys & Girls Clubs since 1973. When he came from Chattanooga, Tenn., there was just one club in Raleigh, with about 100 members.

Today, there are seven clubs in Wake County with 4,700 members. But even with a new building named in his honor, Capps said he’s not done.

“I am both honored and humbled by the gesture,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to serve 6,000 kids. Right now we are just under 5,000. So we got a little more work to do.”