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Roots teen center executive director Jessica Sweeney talks at the grand opening celebration on Saturday.
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A crowd gathers in the Roots common room for the opening celebration.
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Artwork adorns the walls of the Roots teen center.
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Artwork adorns the walls of the Roots teen center.
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The Roots logo.
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The new Roots teen center is open for business on Eagle Street.

New Teen Center Plants 'Roots' in North Adams

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When a grant was secured last summer to move forward with a new teen center, the grant application read "Northern Berkshire Youth Center."

That, in the minds of some of the young people helping to get the facility up and running, was a bit of boring name — and with the help of the adult board of directors they came up with a new one.

"Roots" opened its doors Saturday in a grand opening celebration — and "Roots" is the perfect name for the new gathering place for Northern Berkshire youths ages 14 to 22 located at 43 Eagle St.

" 'Roots' sounds like something that's so grounded in the community," said Epiphany Thomas, who helped with the creation of the center before she went away to college this year. "And that's what we want to be. I'm proud of our role in that."

A capacity crowd marked the opening of Roots on Saturday afternoon, followed by a dance party for youths ages 14 to 22 on Saturday evening. That was just the first of what organizers hope will be many events to engage Northern Berkshire youths.

"This is a space that young people can be in a safe place," said Jessica Sweeney, the center's executive director.

Sweeney said the teen center has been a long time coming, filling a gap left by the closure of COTY Youth Center. A task force was formed in July 2014, and a board of directors was formed one year later. The idea came out of a workgroup developed through the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's Northern Berkshire Youth Collaborative. Pastor Courtney Randall of New Hope United Methodist Church helped to secure $100,000 for the teen center's first three years of operation from the United Methodist Church in Great Barrington.

"It's been a want and a need for a number of years," Sweeney said.

The current home of Roots is in a storefront on Eagle Street that consists of a large common room for youths to hang out and a smaller kitchen in the back to share meals.

After-school programming will begin Nov. 9 with a drop-in homework center, mentoring and programs for artistic expression, as well as a place to develop leadership and job skills, and connect with community partners to participate in internship programs, from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays. Community partners include Project Reconnect (BCAC), Art Doors, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Williams College and Common Folk.

All of that is just the starting point. What Roots becomes will be up to the youth board of directors, who will work in a one-to-one ratio with the adult board of directors, both Sweeney and Randall said

"It was done with the intention that the youth had to take ownership," Randall said. "I'm excited with them. I'm excited for them. It's their story."

The youths appear ready to write that story. Standing in the kitchen watching a visitors tour the new space, Thomas was joined by fellow youth volunteers Brandywine La Belle and Caitlin Mayes in talking about what Roots means to them.

"It means the world to me. It feels like a great accomplishment," Thomas said. "To see it all come to life is extremely surreal. It's like living in an alternate reality."

The three young women have been spreading the word to their friends and classmates that the center is opening and is a place for them to belong. The response so far, they said, has been positive.

"They find it refreshing that there's finally somewhere the youths can call home," said La Belle, adding that she hopes Roots can be a "safe space" and a "safe creative outlet" for area youths. "That's what we're here for."

Mayes said she saw a nice connection between the newly named center and the New Hope United Methodist Church's logo of a tree.

"We're the roots," she said. "We're not just going to sit back and say there's a need in the community but we're going to ignore it. Let's do something about what needs to be done."

That spirit of empowerment is permeating the hopes and dreams of all the people involved in the creation of Roots.

"It's important for us to be able to amplify the voices of youths in our community," La Belle said.

Tags: teen center,   youth programs,   

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