(Host) According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Vermont leads the nation when it comes to teen drinking and marijuana use.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, residents in one small town are coming together to provide their teens with an alternative.
(Keck) Driving into Fair Haven, the stately front porches, white picket fences and red, white and blue bunting on the town green harken back to a different time. Yet local business owner Suellen Schneider says the quaint façade covers some ugly truths.
(Schneider) "It is a dirty little secret – and everybody thinks, Vermont. You know, where you’re out of the area and you say, ‘I live in Vermont‘ -everybody goes, ‘Ahhhhh.’ But this is sad, this high drug rate, this number one binge rate for the past two years nationally. What it says to me is we got a problem and we need to, number one, get to kids and give them something else to do."
(Keck) Schneider has been leading the charge to develop a teen center in Fair Haven. It’s taken three years, but she says they’ve finally found the right downtown location, enough start-up funds and a director who’s opened successful teen centers in Rutland and Burlington.
Fair Haven resident Dave Calvi has been helping coordinate construction and renovation of the center, which will be called Loft 89.
(Calvi) "We’re planning to put a larger flooring down for a theatrical area for the arts. We’re tearing out a couple of the walls because we need a little more visibility. This was two storefronts at one time and now we’re going to try to combine it into one space."
(Keck) Although the facility officially opens next month, it’s been hosting activities all summer.
A group of middle school students held a meeting on a recent evening.
(Teen meeting) "We want you to come up with two trips that you might want to do on a Saturday – the Shelburne Museum, or Billings Farm – wherever you want to go."
(Keck) Fourteen-year- old Maria Ieremias says having a say in how the teen center is run is huge.
(Ieremias) "I think it’s very important because everyone’s idea does count here. Like your opinion does matter and I think that’s something some kids don’t get and that this is going to help out with that."
(Keck) While middle school students discuss potential field trips, a group of high school and college students gather in another room.
(Fabian) "I wish that I had a place like the teen center to go to when I was growing up."
(Keck) Jody Fabian is an 18-year-old from Castleton.
(Fabian) "I looked up to the completely wrong people. Just a couple years ago I got into the smoking and the drinking really bad. A place like this could really help turn around people and really help people like that."
(Keck) Some Fair Haven teens say that helping to organize Loft 89 has been a great opportunity to try to change their community.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Fair Haven.