Saturday, city workers, volunteers and community members celebrated the Grand Opening of Kennesaw's new Teen Center for at-risk youth with grilled food, guest speakers and more.
The participating kids in the program, local middle and high school students recommended by teachers and counselors, received words of encouragement from former Super Bowl champion Eric Matthews of the Green Bay Packers.
Matthews, founder of the Eric Matthews Foundation, said, “I’m glad to be a part of something that helps keep kids off the streets.” He told the kids to stay focused on their goals. “Come here, learn and be a leader, don’t be a follower.”
“For years, our teens have needed a place to be," said Kennesaw Mayor Mark Matthews during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “Now they have a place to have fun, learn and study.”
The vision for the center began two years ago as an idea from the Kennesaw Youth Council, spearheaded by Mayor Pro Tem and Councilman Bill Thrash.
“The dream started out as a spark with the Kennesaw Youth Council. They worked to make everything happen," said Thrash. "It didn’t happen because of me. I just talked about it, and people got excited."
The center is being temporarily housed at 2775 South Main Street in what was the vacant Kennesaw Hardware building, now owned by the city. The Kennesaw Development Authority sponsored a year’s lease at no cost.
The building was renovated through the hard work and dedication of a coalition of workers and volunteers that included city employees, many of whom were in attendance to celebrate.
Thrash said Building Services worked all week on the plumbing, electrical and cleaning.
“It’s amazing to see the way the facility looks after seeing the building the way it was just a week ago,” said Rachel Quillin, chair of the Youth Council.
"It was truly a team effort. In Kennesaw, we put the unity back in community,” said Thrash, thanking contributors to the project, a long list of local organizations, businesses, and individuals such as the Kennesaw Dream Foundation and Success for All Students, which is providing transportation to the center.
Randall Adams, the computer technology instructor at Kennesaw Mountain High School, procured surplus Cobb County computer equipment previously in need of repair. His students worked on the computers as a class project and will continue to maintain and service the technology on a regular basis.
In addition to study areas and computer labs on the center's second floor, its first floor recreational area has space for teens to relax and engage in activities like art, gaming, karaoke and talent shows.
Councilman Thrash’s wife, Suzie Thrash, who is a Cobb teacher and works with the Youth Council, said, “Part of our goal at the center is to feed these kids healthy nutritious meals. We are seeking volunteers, donations and sponsors to help feed and mentor these kids.”
The Youth Council will also contribute their time through tutoring.
“This is a great opportunity to help out other kids and have a place to go and hang out," said Brandon Borkat, a North Cobb High School student and Youth Council member.
The program will operate from 3-7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Participating kids sign a contract between themselves, their parents and their teachers agreeing to abide by the terms and expectations of the program such as completing homework.
The community is encouraged to get involved. There are opportunities for volunteers, tutors, mentors, business speakers, career counselors and more.