By DANIELLE CURTIS
A record number of teens turned out for this month's Teen Night event organized
by Bridging the Gaps Coalition, the city's Recreation Department, and the
Rochester Police Department, with a total of 175 youths participating in the
The event, held Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Rochester Community Center, featured a number of activities, including ornament making, board games, and holiday crafts.
The evening was sponsored by Goodwin Community Health, which provided brochures and other information about healthy eating, exercise and general health-related topics.
According to Jennie Seyer O'Connell, the coordinator of Bridging the Gaps, a local organization preventing alcohol and drug use among youth, this month's attendance rate beat out the previous record, about 120 teens, by a large margin.
She attributed the increase to the weather getting colder, decreasing the number of places teens can hang out, and to increased publicity for the monthly events.
"I think the word is getting out more," Seyer O'Connell said recently. "There's been a lot of promotion in the schools."
The staff at the teen nights, as well, plays a large role in bringing attendees back and getting the teens to spread the word about the events.
"The volunteers do a really good job of keeping the kids engaged," she said, working to come up with interesting and unique crafts and games that bring teens back.
Though the Dec. 3 Teen Night saw the biggest turnout yet, Seyer O'Connell said the program has steadily grown since its inception in October 2010.
To kick off the program, she said, the organizations involved held about seven Teen Nights by December 2010, moving to monthly events in January 2011. The first few weeks, the events brought in about 40 to 50 local teens, and began growing consistently to 75 to 100 teens in recent months.
Seyer O'Connell is glad to see the teen nights growing as months go on, saying they are an important step to keeping the city's youth safe.
"It's really giving them a space that's just for them," she said of the teen nights. "If you look at a lot of the programming in the community, a lot of it ends at age 12. This gives them a space that's for them — a space where adults are there who are mentoring them."
By keeping teens busy and safe, she added, the community becomes a better place.
"It's keeping them from drinking or doing drugs on those nights," Seyer O'Connell said. "It's keeping them from doing vandalism or theft during that time. It's really a diversion program."
She added, the need for such programs in the community is clear. Though she would like to expand Teen Nights, offering them more often, it cannot be done without more community support, Seyer O'Connell added.
Currently, she said, Teen Nights are run on a shoestring budget, with each of the three coordinating organizations providing staff for the evenings at their own expense. Arts and crafts supplies, she added, consist of whatever coordinators are able to find, and money for food is often donated by a local business.
"I think it's something that we want to look at as a community," Seyer O'Connell said. "To do it more often we would need funding and community support. But there very well is that need; with these numbers it seems like there could be a need for expanding it."
For information about an upcoming Teen Night, contact the Rochester Recreation Department at (603) 332-4120x0. Community agencies interested in helping with Teen Night or local businesses or individuals who would like to make a donation toward the events can contact Seyer O'Connell at Bridging the Gaps Coalition at (603) 330-7160.