There is a sense of camaraderie at the Youth Center. Anna Coleman is often there until 10 p.m., to offer help or just to greet kids as they come in. Many of them call her “Mom.” On any given day, there might be a group of middle school boys playing games, or ten teens doing homework, or hanging out and listening to music. “I never know who will come through the door,” says Anna.
In the space of a one-bedroom apartment, Steve and Anna Coleman have created a place for the children and young adults of Patagonia to talk, play music, watch television, do their homework, cook, and play foosball. There’s no room for wrestling, but that goes on outside where there’s a small vegetable garden, some chairs and tables, and a space to horse around.
The organization of this space is impressive. Everything has a place from the floor to the ceiling. There’s comfortable furniture, a few desks, games stacked on shelves, food stacked on shelves, books, notices posted to remind kids of the few rules (there’s a swear box where kids have to put in 25 cents if they slip up in this regard), and inspirational slogans and art. Cupboards in the kitchen hold plates and flatware. There are drinking cups, each bearing a person’s name. This is an environmentally responsible organization—no styrofoam or plastic.
Within this highly structured space, there is ample room for chaotic activity. After school and into the evening, kids of all ages are coming and going. There is food set out on a table. The music is pretty loud. There are no arguments. Everyone is engaged. Few adults would be comfortable in this adolescent hideaway on a back street in town, but Anna Coleman feels right at home—in fact, this is her second home. She and Steve have, with the help of supporters and the kids themselves, made what was a rundown, vacant apartment into a bright, welcoming space. The hours involved in creating and maintaining what today is Patagonia’s Youth Enrichment Center (PYEC) are beyond calculation.
Today there are students helping others with studies and homework. This peer mentoring and tutoring has helped raise grades. Arts and crafts projects are a source of collaboration and fun with links to 4-H and community service projects like Patagonia Clean-Up Day and the Doc Mock Park Project.
This summer Steve plans to add an industrial arts component in a roofed outdoor space, and a vegetable garden and fish pond are underway. He and Anna are well qualified to head up these projects. Each is a certified educator, and they hold certificates in career and technology education. Their commitment is ongoing and altogether amazing.
On Sunday, April 26, the center will celebrate its first anniversary. You are welcome to join in the celebration and meet the youth who are thriving in this familial place. If you want to help, Anna says that people have donated a lot of furniture and equipment and what is needed most now is money. The Colemans would love to expand their space into one of the adjoining old apartments so that there could be a quiet place for reading and studying, but the rent is out of their reach. Also, the food on the kitchen shelves is donated, but they always need money for fresh fruit and vegetables. Oh, and if you have any leftover exterior paint, PYEC would love to have it. Anna wants to make the outside of the center as vibrant as the inside.
PYEC is located in the Plaza de Patagonia at 277 McKeown Ave., and the first anniversary celebration is from 1 to 4 p.m.