Bristol’s teen center doubles in size

BRISTOL — Since Jim Lockridge took over as director of The Hub teen center in Bristol in 2008, new rules have been implemented to reduce substance abuse and profane language, the facility and its resources have grown exponentially and programming has expanded substantially.
The end result?
More kids are coming. The staff has doubled. And thanks to a hefty slate of grants, all of this has happened without a serious impact on local taxes.
In 2011, The Hub began taking better metrics to help explain the outcomes, successes and failures of its program. According to numbers recorded by The Hub, the average weekly visits skyrocketed from 64.75 in April to 106 in November. This number was calculated using a four-week average, which excluded a music event in early November that stimulated 276 visits in a week.
In order to handle increased attendance and continue to develop programming, Lockridge and Hub Assistant Ryan Krushenick found grant funding to double Krushenick’s hours. In the past few years, Lockridge has also found staff assistance through AmeriCorps, which has consistently provided a full-time VISTA volunteer.
According to Town Administrator Bill Bryant, the teen center is the only segment of town government that is expanding.
“The level of staff at The Hub in the five years I’ve been here has grown by 50 percent,” he said, “and there’s no other sector in our town government that’s grown.”
What’s made this growth possible is Lockridge and his team’s ability to obtain a wide range of grants, like those from the Vermont Department of Education, the United Way of Addison County and the Vermont Community Foundation. Comparatively, The Hub’s tax-funded spending has risen 4.6 percent in the past three years to a total of $61,346 this fiscal year.
“From the state level down to the ultra-local level, we’re pretty thoughtful about finding support for this place,” said Lockridge.
Soon after Lockridge took the job at The Hub, he hired Krushenick, who had worked for three years as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at the Burlington-based nonprofit Big Heavy World, which Lockridge founded and still runs. He knew he had a large task before him and trusted Krushenick to help him reinvent the teen center.
“I’m not scared or ashamed to admit that when Jim and I stepped into this job, The Hub had a reputation of being a place where — and I say this with quotations — ‘the bad kids’ went,” said Krushenick. “A lot of parents didn’t want their kids coming here … it was a monkey house … that’s what we stepped into.”
From the get-go, the two took steps to curb substance abuse, profanity and bullying. They’ve worked with teens to board off hidden areas in the skatepark and banned loitering in the parking lot — areas where kids once hid to smoke.
“We’re really thoughtful and sensitive with the kids,” said Lockridge. “We didn’t just put up ‘No loitering’ signs. (Instead) we worked with a public defender so that anyone who reads the sign knows what its point is … They can actually understand that we’re raising the bar for how this place is maintained and managed in a smart way for the community, and they’re involved.”
To cut down on profanity, the duo tried a policy where warnings were issued and then repeat offenders were kicked out, but it didn’t work, explained Krushenick. So a new punishment was created this past year: pushups. No one’s quite sure where this policy came from, but what’s best about it, said Krushenick, is that the teens enforce it themselves.
Many of the kids who regularly use the teen center have noticed a difference, too.
“There used to be a lot of drugs before Jim came, and then things started going up,” said Zac Calcagni, a senior at Mount Abraham Union High School.
Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs explained in an e-mail that The Hub has helped reduce illegal activity among Bristol’s youth since Lockridge took over. The secret to The Hub’s success, he said, is a “clearer and consistent (set of) rules with more consistent application.”
The Hub staff has also worked to eliminate bullying at the teen center and spread awareness about different walks of life. For example, the teen center recently held a workshop called Queer 101 with Outright Vermont, a support and advocacy group for homosexual and transgender teens.
“It was just to cue people in on the sensitivities of different lifestyles and learn how to accept people,” said Krushenick about the event. “We want this to be a safe space for everyone … being a teen is hard enough … I know that the social ladders of high school can be difficult, and I can’t control that there. But when kids step through the door here, I want to make sure there’s no bullying.
“It’s really easy to get one social clique into the teen center. We don’t want that. We want anyone from the high school and middle school to come.”
When a group of teens at The Hub recently were asked what they learn at The Hub, Scott Mullin, a junior from Addison who attends Mount Abe, piped up.
“We learn how to be nicer people,” he said earnestly. “It’s like a community.”
Lockridge and Krushenick have found that keeping kids busy with things they like to do also keeps them out of trouble. Usually The Hub has a staffer on hand by 10 a.m. and the place is open to teens until 6 p.m.
“Over the years this place has only gotten better,” said Mount Abe junior Kyle Conner. “They’ve gotten new skatepark stuff, these new TVs this year, a new surface on the skatepark, new computers. It keeps getting better and better. I can’t say anything negative (about The Hub) at all.”
Something else that Conner and his friends like about The Hub is the music advice and instruction offered by Krushenick, who has a background as a professional musician. The Hub also offers a wide range of instruments for eager students to try out.
“We’ve learned how to set up (music) shows through the music program here, and since they provide us with instruments, we have fun with those,” said Conner.
He and his band mates, who call themselves Ground Zero, honed their chops at The Hub using these resources, and in February the Mount Abe crew will play their biggest show yet at Burlington’s Higher Ground. Throughout the year, Hub staff have helped Ground Zero and other kids prosper.
“This year we really stepped up the aggressiveness of our programming from more shows to more workshops to doing paintball and stuff like that,” said Krushenick. “The Hub has become a place where you want to be, and it’s pretty cool.”
The Hub is also attracting other new visitors. The Mount Abe football team this fall reviewed game tapes there, and it’s often used during the day for tutoring.
To attract more kids, Lockridge is working with freshman Sarah Muller to reach out to kids. Using graphic design skills she developed at the Hannaford Career Center, she’s working to create signs and other materials to increase The Hub’s attendance.
And with increased attendance, Lockridge and Krushenick want to provide even greater opportunities.
“My big goal is to create a calendar that’s not just 2:30 p.m. to when kids’ parents pick them up, but create stuff going on at night, create trips they can look forward to and have field trips outside of the school’s curriculum that are still educational and fun,” said Krushenick.
“We want kids to know what a big world it is out there, whether we bring it here or bring them to it,” said Lockridge. “We want them to feel optimistic about what’s out there.”
More information on The Hub is at www.bristolskatepark.com.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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