Merrimack teens promote proposed center

Consider the alternatives.

“When we were in middle school, we’d walk down to the Mobil station after school,” said Courtney O’Brien, 15, a Merrimack High School soph

“A gas station isn’t really a very good place to be hanging out.”

Gas stations, friends’ homes, the skate park and sometimes the YMCA now are the most common places for teens to go after school. In many cases, wherever they go, it’s always the same complaint.

“Probably the one phrase you hear most in town is people complaining about there being nothing to do,” said Dave LoVerme, 16, a high school junior.

LoVerme, O’Brien and their 10 peers on a teen advisory council hope to change that. The council, teamed with a six-person adult advisory board, has been working to create a teen center in town.

The center got a big push last week with the announcement that the town has been awarded a $13,000 grant from the Six Percent Incentive Fund of the state Division for Children, Youth and Families. The fund provides money for programs for teenagers throughout the state.

WHAT: Public hearing on whether the town should accept a $13,000 grant to launch a teen center
WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.
WHERE: At the Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Town Hall Courtroom.
The money is a portion of the estimated $47,000 it would take to create a center and fund its activities. With the smaller award, the budget would have to be scaled back, and teens would have to hold fund-raisers.

That the grant has been awarded doesn’t automatically mean the town will get the money. A public hearing must first be held – one is scheduled for Thursday – and the Board of Selectmen must vote to accept the money.

Adults will sort through how the money will be used and the question of whether accepting the grant would commit taxpayers to funding the rest. The teens, meanwhile, are excited to get the ball rolling.

As part of planning for the center, a survey was distributed at Merrimack High School. The results were overwhelming, with 570 of the school’s 840 students – 68 percent – saying they would use the teen center. The survey also shed light on some of the pressures teens face.

“They realized there was a big problem with alcohol, drugs and things like that,” said Katie Mulrey, 17, an MHS senior.

“We’re trying to give teens in Merrimack a place to go where they’re not bored and they don’t get into trouble,” she said.

The idea is a place for teens to hang out – possibly starting at the Merrimack Youth Association Building, because it’s in the center of town, or the building at Wasserman Park. But the teens and adults on the councils envision a place where teenagers can get help with homework. The center also would sponsor coffeehouses, live bands, bus trips to Boston sites and community service projects, such as helping out at soup kitchens and nursing homes.

Ironically, the MYA site was started as a teen center. The center folded, and the building now is the home for the organization that sponsors youth sports. The adult and teen councils hope an organized, funded center led by an adult adviser would keep the center going strong.

Sports are strong in town, but there’s little else for nonathletes to do, some of the teens said.

“Teens who aren’t involved in sports and other activities, there’s no real place for them to go after school,” said Vincent Servello, 16, an MHS junior. “This would be a good opportunity for teenagers after school to go to a central place, a safe place, and do different things. It probably would help crime a lot because people would have less time to do stuff.”

To date, the teens have sponsored several successful happenings, such as a coffeehouse and band blast at the YMCA, which got them some attention in town.

“Now, I think people have sort of forgot about us,” LoVerme said. “We kind of want to do something else to get our name back out there and just raise the awareness.”