BROOKLYN, Conn. — Bucky Lohbusch knows he has a tough sell ahead.
Brooklyn’s parks and recreation director must convince residents — many of whom have already been wary of the need for the Brooklyn Teen Center — that his answer to a challenge from town leaders in 2014 to develop more programs for teens and children is worth keeping open.
It’s a valuable place, Lohbusch said, for middle school students who need a safe spot to go after school.
“The hardest part on our end is selling it to the public,” said Lohbusch, who is still in the process of presenting his department’s budget to the town finance board. “Our goal is to target those students who don’t play sports and don’t have another avenue to go for socialization.
“We’re stressing to the parents that the teen center needs to continue.”
Lohbusch and Lisa Lindia, the teen center coordinator, are looking for ways to have the center pay for itself — a goal Lohbusch hopes to include in his 2018-19 budget proposal.
“We have to look for ways to bring in revenues,” he said. “We also need to find revenue sources so we can provide scholarships for families who can’t afford to pay.”
The crux of the plan: Recruit more students — there is a cost to use the center — by promoting what the facility has to offer.
The Brooklyn Teen Center is open from 2:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. The center’s goal is to promote healthy age-appropriate development for all teens and pre-teens in Brooklyn as well as neighboring towns. For more information, call (860) 412-0060.
“We’ve already started,” Lindia said. “We’re sending out passes so kids can come down for the day. We’ve gone to the school and spoken to kids. We’ve invited classes to come down and tour the center.”
Added Lohbusch: “We’re confident we’re going to get the sign-ups and registration we need. What people don’t understand is it takes a long time to build a program.”
In its third full year, the teen center relies on town funding, grants and revenue from membership fees. It has always been financially controversial amid residents have been known to scrutinize their town’s budget.
Before it opened, a resident made a failed attempt to defund it at the annual town meeting. Last year — the center is open throughout the school year, five days a week — the center’s funding was slashed in half and its staff cut down to Lindia and one counselor.
Earlier this year when the state began making deep cuts to towns, Brooklyn officials began making suggested cuts to each department, including $6,700 from the Teen Center — the town pays for the center’s salaries; grants take care of most all other expenses.
First Selectman Rick Ives, who’s been a proponent of the center, said it wasn’t fair to cut salaries because no other positions across town were being affected. So Lohbusch opted to make cuts to grass seed and fertilizer instead.
But since the end of January, officials have been implementing a $30 fee per child per week to utilize the center. That cost is on top of the $100 membership charged at the beginning of the school year. Lohbusch said they have 10 teens/families that are paying the $30 fee.
“We’re OK for now,” Lohbusch said of the center’s financial status. “But one of the grants we’ve been receiving from a trust, $2,500, is coming to an end. We have one more payment for March, and then it’s done.”
Lohbusch said for 2018-19, he’s budgeted $17,470 for salaries to run the center. Last year, the center brought in about $2,000 in revenue through the per year membership.
“Residents are justified to wonder if it’s worth it,” Lohbusch said. “When I first came here 20 years ago, our before-school program (at the elementary school) averaged eight or nine kids. Now our before-school program is in the high 30s and we have more than 50 kids every day in our after-school program.
“Although the parks and recreation department brings in well over $200,000 from programming throughout the year, that goes to the town. It doesn’t impact the teen center directly.”
But the teen center has a direct impact on youth.
Last April, several students took advantage of the center because they would be home alone after school otherwise. The center, Alexis Mercado, 11, said at the time, is a place where “you can be loud and no one yells about it.”
“It’s a safe haven for their age group to develop their social and emotional skills,” Lohbusch said. “They can be themselves. If they want to hang out and play video games, they can.”
Lindia said they offer various activities, including baking, arts and crafts and painting rocks. And the teen center youth are a vital part when it comes to town events that are planned throughout the year.
“We rely on them,” Lohbusch said. “They help us at the Bunny Breakfast, Family Fun Day and Spooky Nights. These kids participate and volunteer for the town.”
Information from: Norwich Bulletin, http://www.norwichbulletin.com