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City Plans First Center for Teens

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Today, the nurture/nature question over which contributes more to Richmond’s troubled youth seems to bother McQuinn less than working on what she calls the most practical effort to save them. For McQuinn, it’s her yet-to-be-named teen center. And she needs a few million dollars to pull it off. But when she does — and she says it’ll be soon — the teens who have been lumped together for the last two years with more than 50 children in the East District Initiative’s after-school and summer program, will have a place of their own.

In July, City Council approved $250,000 to help acquire three historic, unused and dilapidated buildings on Q and 30th streets. The buildings were to be transformed into a kind of teen-center campus open to adolescents in nearby distressed neighborhoods.

The three buildings — the former Bojangles Theater, an old railroad club and a grouping of ancient trolley barns — are set to become what McQuinn calls a “safe haven” and a “cork in that thing of culture” that’s killing kids. McQuinn is working on the project with the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.

Construction will take place in three phases. Entire cost including an operational endowment is $2.5 to $3 million, says Jennie Knapp, executive director of A.C.O.R.N. And while the city has set aside some funds for the center, a nonprofit group is being formed to raise the bulk of the money. Kathy Panoff, executive director of University of Richmond’s Modlin Center, has been hired as project manager. “This [effort] is truly unique,” Knapp says. “We think kids will see something really interesting and hip is going on there and want to come in.”

Some city administrators have said the money should be used toward existing programs, such as the nonprofit, independent Richmond’s Boys and Girls Clubs. McQuinn points out that her center is unique because it will target only teenagers, especially those not inclined toward city-sponsored programs and activities. Eventually, she says, the center will offer instruction in everything from cuisine to the arts to filmmaking. And it will be its own campus, she stresses.

McQuinn, who raised two teenagers in the tumultuous East End, knows the alternatives that some children and teenagers turn to when their options seem slim — sex and drugs, mostly, and every kind of crime imaginable, from curfew violations to homicides. Recently police reported that violent crime committed by youth is 18 percent higher today than a year ago.

McQuinn has spoken at too many untimely funerals, she says. “We can create our own paradigm,” she says of the teen center. “This safety net is going to be their salvation and what makes them realize their potential.” — Brandon Walters

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