Family Pathways Executive Director Rick Smith and Youth Services Coordinator Don Lenhart usually bring some enthusiasm with them when attending Stacy council meetings, but that wasn’t the case Feb. 12.
A subdued Smith announced the Stacy Teen Center building, currently leased by Family Pathways, is closing March 16. Family Pathways has made the decision to relocate the teen center to North Branch. Smith said the reason is to be nearer to the school where there will be “the opportunity to serve more kids.”
The new center is located five blocks from the schools, Smith said.
“We wanted to let the city know first because the city has been very supportive,” Smith said.
This was the first public announcement of the closing.
The city council initially responded to the closing with silence.
But then Mayor Mark Utecht addressed the decision.
“Obviously, the teen center has a very significant value for our community,” he said. “Has any thought been given to how to get the kids to and from (Stacy to the new teen center)?”
He pointed out the center serves primarily teens on the west side of the freeway, as the danger in walking or biking across the Stacy Trail bridge prohibits many kids from accessing the teen center.
Smith admitted the freeway has been a barrier to service, but maintained Family Pathways is determined to continue youth services to the Stacy population.
“We have a relationship with those kids,” Smith said.
Family Pathways plans to publicize the change in a direct mailing to the parents of teens who participate in Teen Center programs. The letter will include information on using Heartland Express for transportation.
The cost of a ride on Heartland Express is $2. Lenhart added they are speaking to the Heartland Express about creating a convenient bus stop.
Councilor Michael Carlson shook his head when addressing the closing of the teen center.
“Of course I am concerned about the loss, that is all those kids have in this town,” he said. “I, for one, am going to have to look around for another option. The $2 cost will be prohibitive to many people, I know that.”
The Teen Center hours of operation were announced as Mondays, 1 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 7 p.m. and Fridays, 3 to 9 p.m. This will conflict with hours of operation for Heartland Express. According to the Heartland Express website, buses run 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Heartland Express also expects rides to be scheduled one day in advance.
Lenhart said those who qualify may ride the Heartland Express free of charge.
“Not every driver understands that,” Carlson responded, continuing, “I am very disheartened that there isn’t something that you folks can do. It sounds like we’re just dropped and I am not happy about that at all.”
Lenhart assured the council Family Pathways is proactively trying to ensure a continued relationship with the Stacy kids who are served by the teen center.
Carlson had more to say, adding, “It just says again that Stacy isn’t good enough. This is something I heard when I moved up here in the 1980’s, and it continues.”
Smith presented the argument that the majority of the city’s 1,400 residents reside east of the freeway, and the teen center wasn’t serving many teens on that side of the city. Smith said Family Pathways’ strategy is to also reach out toward the south to Forest Lake and toward Rush City in the north in order to combine programming. A youth engagement specialist has been hired to work with kids in both the North Branch and Forest Lake schools.
“It wasn’t an easy choice for us,” he said.
Carlson said this would cause him to rethink his support for Family Pathways.
Utecht asked if Chisago County law enforcement had been contacted.
“I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but it seems to me they would want to know that,” he said. “I hope there isn’t any negative fallout as far as law enforcement is concerned, but I think they will want to know about this.”
The mayor said he understands kids who engage in productive activities outside of school means fewer opportunities for mischief.
Utecht thanked Smith for addressing the council, but noted he is displeased about the decision to move the teen center.
“I am not happy to hear this,” he said to the Family Pathways representatives. “I wish there was a way this could be avoided and if there is any way you can think of to help the kids in this city, do not hesitate to contact any one of us or the city clerk.”
Smith explained his organization is still committed to serving the Stacy community.
“Family Pathways is very committed to kids and seniors,” he said. “We can’t do everything, but we do want to be part of the conversation.”
The Teen Center will reopen in North Branch April 1.