Members of Project Change, a group comprised of teens and adults committed to providing positive opportunities for Olney's youths, has shifted their focus to creating a "virtual teen center" after abandoning their idea of opening a teen center in the Olney Village Mart.
Last July, Carl M. Freeman & Associates, owner of the Olney Village Mart, tentatively agreed to allow the teens to use one of the vacant stores for after-school mentoring, social gatherings and community events. Project Change had long sought to set up a coffeehouse-type environment where teens could meet for a variety of activities.
However, after studying the feasibility of opening and operating the facility, the group decided not to pursue the offer.
"It was a tough decision, but it was unanimous," said Olney psychologist and adult advisor Ellen Lent. "We had enough money to open it, insure it and furnish it, but we just didn't know if there'd be enough to keep it running."
Project Change co-advisor Anne Moriarty said she was proud of the teens for making the right decision.
"Some of these kids have been working on getting a teen center for over two years, and they now know that it will probably not come to fruition during their time," she said. "I know it was a hard decision, but they realized the importance of the long-term goals."
Despite the setback, Project Change continues to gain momentum. The group has decided to shift from creating a physical teen center to organizing a constant stream of smaller-scale activities appealing to a broad range of interests throughout the year.
Some of the ideas include a mystery dinner party, a theatrical production, a holiday party, an outdoor film festival, a karaoke-casino night and a silent auction.
In October, Project Change hosted a party at Longwood Recreation Center, attracting nearly 300 kids. Not only was that the largest number of teens ever to attend a Project Change function, but organizers were pleased that more students from Blake and Magruder high schools attended than had in the past.
Earlier this month, Project Change members Khalid Walker and Stephanie Bryn participated in the national leadership conference SafeUSA in Atlanta. Walker spoke about Project Change and ways of reducing violence in schools as a member of the teen panel on Adolescent Risks to Injury, and Bryn moderated the panel discussion.
Lent said the organization's next step is to obtain nonprofit status. The required by-laws and articles of incorporation are almost complete, and the group is planning to install officers for the first time in January. Each adult officer will work with a teen officer, although the teens will not have the legal rights and responsibilities.
"We want them to be part of running the group, because our focus all along has been to be a youth-driven organization," Lent said. "What has made us so successful is that we listen to the kids, plan accordingly, and then the kids and their friends attend."