How To Start A Teen Center by Non-Toxic Teen Center / Edgerton Teen Center

How To Start A Teen Center

This was originally posted at our previous site,

In 2013, the teen center was re-named to Edgerton Teen Center with the more fitting web address.

It was written by Dave Flood, Founder and Director of Non-Toxic Youth Alternatives, Inc


How To Start A Teen Center

Non-Toxic Youth Alternatives, Inc. ~ Established in 1993.

Need Help Creating a Teen Center?      Have a Small Budget?     Wonder How To Raise Funds?

    I have have received so many questions regarding "how to start" a teen center that I decided to help others interested sort through some of the many questions which need to be asked.  Most of the information included on this page can apply to starting similar outreaches such as youth centers, clubs and so on.  The information provided here is merely a guide to help you think through the project.  Begin with a pen and notebook and answer these questions accurately.  Too often one has a big vision and believes everything will eventually fall into place. The fact is,  often the idea is great but there are really not enough tools in place to bring about the project.  I have watched many teen centers open and close within the first year.  Many are shut down by the governing authorities because they breed illicit and illegal activities.  Some are begun because a parent or minister or concerned community member sees the need but the overall stress and financial burden to keep the project running are too much for a small group of individuals.  Please remember, it takes more than a concern for our youth to be successful.  

    I have witnessed centers that are the brainstorm of excited teens who want to make a difference in their community and those centers are very successful...until those teens graduate and move on.  Seldom are there people in place to step up and continue the project.  It takes a great deal of passion and commitment to stay the course.  Do you have a five year plan?  Goals?

    Non-Toxic was established in 1993 and the first encounter I experienced came from a man I thought would stand behind the vision to reach our youth.  Rather than encourage and offer counsel, he instead offered these wonderful words of discouragement, "we'll see how long you last."  He was serious.  I see now why he said it but it was a poor way of encouraging an excited young man wanting to make a difference.  Non-Toxic did not fail but most teen centers do.  Are you prepared to be successful?

    The biggest obstacles to overcome are those that may surprise you.  They are:

  • Many communities do not like teen centers.  To many members of smaller communities teen centers are seen as a place where troubled teens hang out in groups and they do not want teens in large numbers visible to people passing by.  It is a sad reality.  Larger cities do not have the same problem to such a degree but few adults want to see teens in large groups.  Please do not think the teens will remain inside the center.  There will be a loitering issue to deal with.
  • Funding is difficult.  People love to hear about visions that offer youth a positive place to enjoy recreational games and the idea of mentoring troubled youth gains approval but few will give financially to such a project.  Grants and government funding are very difficult to achieve no matter how much passion for success the staff exudes.  Few if any grants will be offered to cover ongoing expenses.  They most often are assigned to specific projects.  Be realistic! Can your community fund a center?
  • Enlisting committed adults.  Teens can not successfully manage nor control a center.  In my community, before I moved here,  a center was closed by the city officials because teens were left to police the facility and manage its affairs.  Peer pressure is a huge obstacle.  Please, never underestimate the power of teens wanting to fit in!

    Please read through the following questions and answer as accurately as possible.  There will be some questions that may surprise you and some may not apply.  Answer all if possible and brainstorm with your group to develop answers to the tough issues you will face.  If you do not have a group of dedicated people willing to commit to this project for at least three years you may want to reconsider the project.  The following questions are to prepare you for practical issues that may arise.  Essential issues of financial accountability, a good business plan and future funding are areas that will  be addressed in another section.  No matter how much money an organization receives, it will fail unless there are people who are able to work with teens on their level.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.   Have pen and paper ready.

  1. How many committed adults are a part of your team?
  2. How many youth are actively involved on your team?
  3. Where will the necessary money come from to fund the project over the next five years?
  4. Who will run the organization?
  5. Who is the treasurer?  Is there financial accountability?
  6. How will you acquire the necessary recreational equipment, other games etc.?
  7. Where will the center be located?  Near residential areas?  Near businesses?  In town?  On the edge of town?
  8. Will the crowds that gather irritate the neighbors, generate ill will with those living or doing business nearby?
  9. Are gangs an issue in your community?  If so, how will you manage this volatile situation?
  10. Are drugs and alcohol going to be an issue you need to monitor (in the parking lot? In the restrooms)?  You must answer yes to this question.  Plan for the worst case scenario.
  11. Is the staff bold enough to confront teens who need discipline?
  12. Is the staff gracious enough to understand that teens are going through a crisis time in their development and need a lot of understanding?
  13. Can you deal with teens gothed out?  Do you know what being "gothed" out is?  Learn.  What of those wearing disfiguring make-up?  Smoking?  Body piercing(s) and tattoos unbecoming to your eyes?  In sexual situations?  Using profanity?  Establishing gang situations?  
  14. Young men who volunteer may be attracted to teen girls- How will you address this situation?
  15. Will you enjoy the opportunity to establish relationships with teens and earn their trust?
  16. Is mentoring youth your objective?  Is ministry your objective?  If so, how will you do it?  How will you keep them coming?
  17. If mentoring is not your biggest priority is it recreation?  If so, how will the center draw teens and keep them coming?
  18. How will you deal with loitering?  Teens will stand outside and when they congregate in groups people will become concerned.  You need to think through this problem because it will become a problem for you.
  19. Can you earn the trust of teens?  How will you earn their trust?  You have to know how!

    Creating a teen outreach is an adventure and filled with a lot of exciting ways to express yourself and use your creativity.  Some people are just plain good at this part but lack strengths in other areas.  Do you have a well rounded board to help pull it all together and balance each others strengths and weaknesses?  Surround yourself with people who are different from yourself.  Some people are dichotomistic and some are holistic.  Believe it or not, compassionate people do not always deal well with confrontation.  Some personalities do not work well with teens but do with adults.  Some people are artistic, some are more cognitive, some are very detail oriented and some have a pile and everything has a place in the pile.  All are assets to your project as long as each is plugged in correctly.  The positive encounters shared with teens far outweigh all the obstacles necessary to keep the organization going but the obstacles are very real.

Have you thought through the legal considerations?

  1. Will the organization be tax exempt?
  2. Will you incorporate?
  3. What permits and licensing are required in your county and community?
  4. Will the staff personnel pass background checks?  Be extremely careful who works with children.  A teen is still a child!

   Getting started requires these few steps.

  1. Have a leader!  Who will make this happen?
  2. Have a committed group of adults who will meet regularly to brainstorm your objective.  Have an objective.
  3. Start small!  You can grow and people will recognize your successes more and see your failures less.  No one will miss the failure of a big project that gets into trouble.  Build a track record of successes and you will grow.
  4. Have at least a three year business plan.  Have a budget.  Know what the project will cost and know where the funds will come from to insure the project's success.
  5. Create a board of directors that share your vision.  I am not a huge fan nor very concerned with having bank presidents and attorneys on a board as figure heads.  We do not have such a board.  They may help generate funds but the real work and real successes will be accomplished by those truly having a vision.  Visions are contagious when shared with conviction, believability and enthusiasm. 
  6. Find out what teens really need.  I say really, because funding what they say they want may be impossible.  What are the greatest needs you can meet in your community? 
  7. You will need insurance.

    When I started Non-Toxic, I used the public library to formulate our articles of incorporation and sought counsel from local leaders.  Much of the expense can be saved if you are willing to do some research.     

    The areas to consider are many and this is only meant to be an aid for those who are just beginning to think through the process.  If you have thought through all of these areas of concern, already and have in place a constitution and by-laws, and are prepared to open but still have a few questions please ask.  Perhaps I went through a similar situation and can help.  For legal questions please contact an attorney.  Nothing in this page is meant to interpret law or answer all questions.  This page is merely an aid in helping those who want to begin a teen center and are not sure where to start.   Please contact Non-Toxic and perhaps we can be of service to you in getting a teen center started in your community.  

    Through Non-Toxic is offered seminars and consulting services.  I will come to your community and offer advice and counsel.  Much of the information included on this page is presented and explained.  Questions can be answered and direction given.  There is a fee which includes travel expenses, work books and consulting.  However, I will not do the work for you and start a center in your community.  I can only offer guidance and advice from practical experience.  I will offer you information on many topics but the project is yours and so is all the work to bring it to fruition.  Enjoy the process, you will learn much and feel you can really make the project a reality.  You will be confident and that is a huge asset.  God bless you in your valuable endeavor!