The Brick House Teen Center is evolving every day and we have had many blessings in the last year to be grateful for.
Some of the youth have been attending for many years now while others are just now finding out about it due to its recent reputation for being “lit.” We are happy to take that as an extreme compliment! Everyday life at the teen center is hilarious, loud and colorful, and owe credit to all of our vibrant and intelligent teens that come through every day.
During the school year, youth ages 11-18 had access to several structured programs, transforming the drop-in center into a place for healing, creating, and learning together.
We hosted a Peer Support mental health group, with staff person J Aprileo and partners from the Western Mass RLC, giving youth the chance to talk and support each other. Brick House program staff, Nina Yagual, designed weekly art classes for Momentum Arts, including painting, printmaking, poetry, drawing, slime making, and clothing alteration. Staff collaborated with community members to host ongoing social justice workshops, supported by a Community Development Block Grant through the Town of Montague. The YOLO program uses pop culture as a way to explore issues of power and oppression.
We were honored to kickstart the summer with a very enthusiastic volunteer who traveled all the way from Ohio to volunteer at the teen center for the summer. Elie McAfee Hahn summoned the rhythmic talent of BH youth and encouraged daily musical practices in the recording studio. He offered instrument literacy and digital program comprehension. Elie promoted musical confidence with his patience, personality and unwavering sense of calm. Youth and staff were sad to see Elie leave but we parted with great appreciation and respect.
The BH participants are in love with hip-hop and were excited to develop new thought patterns about the revolutionary music when Nina and Elie designed an interactive workshop called “Intro to Hip-Hop”. This project was designed to expose hip-hop for the historical ingenuity that it is under-recognized for. The group revealed powerful references hidden deep within hip-hop and made space to explore the reasons why it is obscure, brilliant and enlightened. The goal of this workshop was to understand that hip-hop is a mentality, a spirituality, a state of mind and most importantly a lifestyle.
All of our youth seem to challenge the norm, go against the grain and swing into a creative expression with a huge sense of confidence and grace. Journie Smalls, Ileannis, and Wilmarie Bones formed The Salt Shakers, a dance group who showcased an all original number ‘Blaque & Boujee’ at the Shea Theater. Inspired by hip-hop, salsa, and Caribbean roots, these three performers offered the audience an outstanding performance that was just a glimpse into their daily lives.
Thanks to 6 youth from the Summer Jobs and Beyond Program, we were able to accomplish a number of creative projects this summer. Andrew St. Jean initiated several garden projects in the community, offering his botanical knowledge, experience, and patience. The ‘La Mariposa’ collective invited the SJB teens to assist with starting a community library in a radical community center completely from scratch. SJB youth cataloged books online and even generated some book user guidelines for library members.
Summer was all too short but we went out in style, with the help of BH youth, community artists and staff member/designer Nina Yagual, the BH was gifted the opportunity to paint a mural in Unity Park. The mural titled “Manos de Pachamama” is a fantastical portrayal of nature and all of her offerings.
Reflecting on all the fruits of our labor, we are so pleased to see that the BH is evolving into a place of creativity. Teen center attendance is peaking and we are looking forward to shapeshifting ourselves to better serve local youth and stand as strong allies.
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