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Kids fill the HUB after four-month hiatus

Tiegan Dussault, 11, checks the position of the ball during a game of foosball with friend Emma Barker, 11, at the HUB on Thursday. The former South Whidbey Youth Connection program reopened this week after a four-month hiatus due to depleted funding. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Tiegan Dussault, 11, checks the position of the ball during a game of foosball with friend Emma Barker, 11, at the HUB on Thursday. The former South Whidbey Youth Connection program reopened this week after a four-month hiatus due to depleted funding.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Judging by the 28 kids playing games, chatting and generally teen-aging, it’s hard to imagine the HUB was ever closed.

Yet Wednesday marked the first day in four months the South End’s after-school hangout reopened, and the big crowd used everything the HUB has to offer for a few hours. Groups of 10- to 15-year-olds rotated on the Xbox 360 playing Halo. A pair of sixth-grade girls played a seemingly endless match of foosball, while behind them a couple of seventh-grade boys played three-puck air hockey.

“It’s a place for kids to unwind and hang out with friends,” said HUB program coordinator Frankie Petitclerc.

Petitclerc was there when it closed as part of the now-defunct nonprofit South Whidbey Youth Connection in August.

A group of community members, several of whom served on the nonprofit’s board, banded together to reopen the HUB, which saw more than 6,000 South Whidbey youths come through its doors over the years.

“It gives the kids something to do after school in a safe place where adults care about them,” said Lori Cavender, executive director of Ryan’s House for Youth.

“There’s also a hot meal, which can be huge for some of these kids.”

Cavender was a former Youth Connection board member. She plans to be at the HUB on Wednesdays to meet kids who may need services and supplies offered by Ryan’s House, which is a planned shelter for homeless youths on Whidbey Island.

Most kids won’t use or need Ryan’s House who visit the HUB, however. Instead, they’ll be enticed by the casual hangout with paintings, graffiti and neon lights scattered around the basement of Langley United Methodist Church on the corner of Third Street and Anthes Avenue, which continued to donate the space and kept all of the HUB’s equipment.

The free food — it was spaghetti, bread, salad and brownies this week — is a lure, too. Everything that the HUB offers drew one veteran visitor back to the HUB when it reopened.

Lars Hetland, a seventh-grader from Clinton, listed the attractions: “The games and the food. The music, too.”

He and pal Colby Brasher estimated they were at the HUB almost every day it was open until it closed last year.

Thanks to Langley leaders like Police Chief Randy Heston and Councilman Bruce Allen (a former Youth Connection board member), kids like Lars and Colby and Tiegan and Emma get to hang out in a supervised space at least once a week.

“As soon as we can, we’re going to get it open more days,” Allen said.

In addition to Petitclerc, Erick Westphal returned to hover in the HUB, playing Halo and pool and chatting with South Whidbey kids.

That means that for as long as the HUB has enough funds to stay open, at least two adults will be there, plus at least two in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning so the kids can relax.

Given the pervasive nature of technology — smartphones, iPods, tablets — it was surprising to see the kids talking to each other without the use of a keyboard or a keypad. Sure, a group that rotated in to play a video game wasn’t necessarily making eye contact, but they were laughing and jesting and talking to the kids next to them.

“It’s a supervised setting, as opposed to going home where parents may still be at work,” Petitclerc said.

“They start to get to know somebody they might not necessarily get to know otherwise.”

The HUB currently costs about $600 per month to operate one day a week. Most of the budget is spent on the stipends for Petitclerc and Westphal and insurance. Allen credited a handful of supporters for donating food, money and time to reopen the HUB: Screaming Banshee Bakery, Kiichli Bagel Bakery, Katie Barnet, Scott Rogan-Levine, Good Cheer and Terri Arnold.

For more information and to support the HUB, call 221-0969 or email thehub@whidbey.com.

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