Bristol Hub gives teens a place to belong

BRISTOL — Tucked behind the American Legion headquarters and the Sodbusters horseshoe courts near the Bristol Recreation Park stands a squat purple building that is home of The Hub, Bristol’s Teen Center and Skate Park. Nondescript looking from the outside, inside this former bingo pavilion is a place of noise, bustle and transformation. It’s a place where any teen can walk in the door and belong.
“There aren’t a lot of places that open their arms to kids as widely as The Hub does,” said Bristol Recreation Director Darla Senecal. “The Hub fills a niche for those kids who don’t fall into that traditional afterschool teen who is going to play a sport, who’s going to get involved in every club. The Hub’s a place where you can just hang out. You can just be a kid.”
Ryan Krushenick, the 33-year-old Hub director who’s been at teen center for close to 10 years, says The Hub appeals to kids because it is designed for them.
“If you look at this place, there is nothing whitebread about it,” he said. “If you were 13 or 14 and you had your ultimate tree fort, what would be in it? Well, you’d have a skate ramp, you would have music instruments, you would have fancy computers, a 3-D printers, virtual reality, video games. All this stuff is here, but it’s overseen by an adult.”
And with all these teen allurements comes clear safety rules — no smoking, no drugs, no promoting of drugs, no bullying — and level-headed caring adults.
“We want kids to see that there are adult humans who are safe to interact with. There are adult humans that they can talk to,” said Krushenick.
“Kids are invested in this place, and they love this place. Kids tell us all the time that they don’t know what they would do without this place.”
   JAYDEN WHITE, LEFT, a ninth grader from New Haven, and Brianna Trayah, a Bristol senior, play Super Smash Bros. 4 at The Hub after school recently. The comfy couches and tech toys help kids relax, which paves the way for more serious programming.
Independent photo/Gaen Murphree
The Hub serves youth ages 12-19. During the school year, it’s open Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m. On average about 20 kids a day come through its doors — on some days as few as eight, on others over 30. According to The Hub’s website, its teen center and skate park serves over 400 individual teens a year. All programming is free.
Besides the fun and games — including the wildly popular sleepovers (doors locked at 9 p.m., 30-40 kids together with staff for a safe, all-night jam with food, games and movies) — The Hub regularly offers other kinds of programming.
One is called PREP (Personal Responsibility Education Program), an evidence-based teen sexual education program from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. PREP helps kids make healthy choices around abstinence, birth control and contraception. It also addresses healthy relationships, positive adolescent development, and parent-child communication.
Krushenick said The Hub provides PREP classes in different formats. During a break week, The Hub might “bust out the 16 classes in two days.” Other times, Krushenick and Hub Program Manager Brian LaClair lead the classes in four-week sessions. The program is funded through the Vermont Department of Health, which provides The Hub with $150 per participant. The Hub gives that $150 to the teen when he or she completes the program. It’s an effective incentive, said Krushenick, who said the program’s efficacy is tracked with pre- and post-PREP surveys, demonstrating what kids know.
“Kids are reluctant to try new things. They’re reluctant to take a sexual health curriculum. They take PREP to get the $150, but they learn a bunch of stuff,” he said.
The Hub also provides job training: how to get a job, how to keep a job. One of the most important aspects of the jobs program is bringing local business owners and managers into The Hub to talk to kids face to face.
“It’s not blind to us that a lot of our kids come from impoverished households. So how can we get these kids jobs? How can we get them in front of people who can hire them?” said Krushenick. “Bringing in business owners works two ways. One, kids get to learn what business owners are looking for. Two, we get the kids in front of business owners. They’ve now got facetime with potential employers, and maybe that’s what opens the door to a job for them.”
One of The Hub’s most important accomplishments, said Krushenick, is bringing kids from different backgrounds together, erasing clique boundaries that might exist at school.
“We have the geeks, the freaks, the jocks, the goths — and I say that with love. Anything that you can imagine from an ’80s or ’90s movie high school trope that exists — they all come in here and they all hang out. It’s The Hub family,” said Krushenick. “Every kid that comes in here interacts with every other. They don’t sit on separate sides of The Hub.”
Part of The Hub magic has been Krushenick himself. He has been a Hub employee since 2008 and became director in 2013.
“Ryan has brought such compassion,” said Senecal. “He’s got the biggest heart of anyone you will ever meet, and he is dedicated to teens. I always say he gets them, he knows how to speak to them, he knows how to plan for them. He’s passionate about working with them. And doesn’t every teen deserve that?”
Krushenick is that rare adult who’s never lost touch with the vulnerable adolescent side of himself. He well remembers growing up in Warren and being a skateboarder kid with no place to skateboard, being labeled a “menace to society” and hitchhiking to Montpelier and to Waterbury to find a place to skateboard or hang out.
“And I think, ‘Man, I’m glad that I had those places,’ and, ‘Man, it’s terrifying to think about a 14-year-old hitchhiking that far, no money in his pocket.’ That was me. I’m here because I was that transient kid who didn’t have a place to go,” said Krushenick.
Earlier this month, Krushenick gave notice. He’ll serve as Hub director through the end of the 2018 school year then leave to take on a new adventure. Senecal plans to begin a search early in 2018.
Looking ahead to the leadership transition, Senecal said she will soon form two committees: one to gather community input on how The Hub can best serve local communities, another to raise money to renovate the skate park.
Krushenick said that continuing challenges for The Hub have been fundraising and overcoming a community stereotype that it was a place for “bad kids.”
Last summer, for example, Krushenick’s hours were eliminated as a cost-cutting measure, and summer operating hours were cut back overall. Senecal said that summer numbers are historically lower due to lack of transportation to get kids to and from The Hub. But given the program’s importance, she is actively looking for grants to address the summer transportation piece and would like to reinstate the cut summer hours. During the school year, teens can get a ride home on a Mount Abraham Union High School after-school activities bus.
Krushenick believes The Hub isn’t so much an expense as an investment for Bristol and other local communities.
“I see the kids that we did lose through the cracks, and I see the kids that were right on the fence that we pulled over to the right side. Can you put a dollar value on that? Can you put a dollar value on each kid that’s not getting wrapped up in the criminal justice system as an adult, that’s not addicted to opiates, that’s not pregnant as a 14-year-old? Those are the kids that we help pull from the fray, and this place does factually do that. Bristol thrives because of it.”
He noted that many Hub alum are also among the most likely to stay in the local community after graduation.
In terms of having sometimes had a bad rap, Krushenick observed that one of the most important things he did when he came in as Hub director was to work together with Senecal and former Police Chief Kevin Gibbs to create clear, firm rules for Hub participation. Now he said, teens embrace the rules and remind each other to respect them.
Hub alum Paige Parke, a 2015 Mount Abe graduate now living in Middlebury, said The Hub made a difference in her life.
“The Bristol Hub has been a safe place for kids for as long as I can remember. It has been a place that every kid can feel comfortable and supported,” she said. “The employees there always make everyone feel at home by constantly showing their support, love and dedication for all of our well being. From being there to talk to us when we need someone to providing us food for when we are hungry, they go above and beyond for all of us.
“It’s meant so much to me growing up that I always had someone there for me, even at the hardest of times. The Bristol Hub and the people there have always been a positive influence in my life, and I wouldn’t be the person I was without having gone there.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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