The north Clark County community has consistently demonstrated its commitment to local area youth, and Rocksolid Community Teen Center in Brush Prairie is no exception. Founded in 2002 by a group of citizens who recognized the need for a safe, engaging, and welcoming place for middle and high school students to go after school, the center services 15 schools in Battle Ground, Brush Prairie and Hockinson. While many other similar programs in north county have struggled to operate due to financial constraints, Rocksolid has remained, well, solid through the recession years of 2008-2010, shifting school district policies, and rising costs of providing enriching activities for youth.
The vital factor in Rocksolid’s prosperity has been its most significant benefactor, Bethel Lutheran Church, whose lower level the center calls home. Rocksolid is a separate entity, and not religiously, legally or officially affiliated with the church, but a steady flow of volunteers to the center comes from the church membership, including many of Rocksolid’s founders. The center was the brainchild of Gene Foster, a Bethel Lutheran member who, years before, had started a teen center in Forks, Washington and envisioned something similar for teens in Battle Ground. Lori Lindberg, Rocksolid’s current board advisor and one of its founding board members, knew Foster from church, and remembers his driving commitment to youth. “He would go to council meetings, school board meetings, anyone who would listen to him,” she recalls. “He’d show up with his little binder and say, ‘We need a teen center in Battle Ground.’ And nothing was happening.”
Eventually, though, the lease expired for the preschool that had been leasing the lower level of the church, so Foster approached the church council. “‘He said, ‘I think we need to consider donating the space and turning it into a teen center,’” says Lindberg. “The church council overwhelmingly agreed.” Over the following year, efforts to raise additional funds from other sources to pay for equipment, supplies, and transportation for the kids from neighboring schools proved successful, and Rocksolid was born, opening its doors for the start of the 2002-2003 school year. Foster has since passed away, but the organization he envisioned has thrived, through donations from countless individuals, businesses and organizations who share a commitment to the development of the rising generation. “Once the word got out, all kinds of people came out of the woodwork and wanted to help,” says Lindberg. “We had electricians that donated their time, and drywallers that donated their time, ping pong tables donated. It was wonderful . . . It’s been growing ever since . . . We have a really great community out here.”
“That support has continued year after year after year,” executive director Marcy Sprecher chimes in. And that support keeps the fees for teens attending Rocksolid’s after-school program extremely low for families, regardless of income level: $20 per year for the first child, $15 per additional child.
Everyday activities available at Rocksolid’s facility include ping pong, air hockey, board games, puzzles, and crafts, all fueled by a daily healthy snack, often donated by local grocers such as Chuck’s Produce, Andersen Dairy, and Fred Meyer. Screen activities such as video and family-friendly computer games are available but need to be checked out and are limited to 30 minutes. Occasionally, guest presenters and workshop instructors come in to teach the kids skills such as painting and cooking. For example, Clark County Food Bank’s Student Nutrition and Cooking (SNAC) program brings food bank volunteers to Rocksolid to teach kids how to cook over a 6-week session held in the church’s upstairs commercial kitchen, after which the kids cook and serve a full meal. Each January, in honor of national mentoring month, Rocksolid holds a Community Leaders Day where the teens receive visits from school superintendents, local business owners and other community leaders. “We invite all different kinds of community leaders and business owners to see what we’re doing and spend some time with kids,” says Sprecher.
Makaila S., lovingly nicknamed “Smiley” around Rocksolid, is a junior at Battle Ground High School (BGHS) who started attending Rocksolid last year as a sophomore after meeting Sprecher at an event at BGHS. Her favorite activities at Rocksolid have been gym time, learning from Police Activities League (PAL), and attending one of Rocksolid’s two summer camps in August. Each summer, Rocksolid provides two week-long summer camps to 22 teens per camp. The camps are free for the first 44 kids who sign up, and daily activities and field trips are funded through donors. Makaila recalls that her camp group was able to visit OMSI, the zoo, and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, as well as learn how to make sand sculptures at Frenchman’s Bar from a real sand sculptor, among other activities that she most likely would not have been able to experience otherwise. Makaila plans to attend Rocksolid through this school year and continue next year. She notes that Rocksolid is a less stressful environment for her than school is. “I feel welcome here,” she says.
Christian G., an eighth grader at CAM Academy in Battle Ground actually began attending Rocksolid as a home school student last year. Through his social interactions and relationships developed at Rocksolid, he was able to transition into a traditional school atmosphere at CAM. He’s still getting used to CAM, but he’s already comfortable at Rocksolid. “It’s really fun,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff to do.” His favorite regular activities are ping pong, video games, air hockey, and gym time. A huge highlight for him last year was attending a Portland Timbers game and watching from a special suite. Depending on funding and donor support, Rocksolid is occasionally able to provide extra field trips like this one during the school year. After donations, the cost to Rocksolid-enrolled kids is, like their annual enrollment fee, typically very minimal: last year’s Timbers field trip fee for each attendee was just $5, which included tickets to the sporting event, dinner and transportation. Christian, like Makaila, finds the social atmosphere at Rocksolid in stark contrast to the stress of school. “It’s much more fun here at Rocksolid than at school,” he says. “There’s a lot more time to get to know other people.”
Amy Robinson, a bank manager and mother whose children attend RockSolid, considers the center to be her kids’ second home. “They have multiple staff members who treat them like their own kids,” she says. “My kids come home sweaty and thoroughly exhausted from playing so hard. They have made new friendships while attending this program because RockSolid gives the kids a chance to meet children from other schools within the district. I couldn’t imagine a more creative, caring and safe environment for my kids to be after school.”
Some of the most rewarding moments for Rocksolid staff members and volunteers are when kids who attended Rocksolid as teens return as adults to visit “Mama Marcy” and thank the volunteers who became a big part of their adolescence. Sometimes those previous students even become directly involved with the organization. Current teen center manager, Tim Miller, was a teen attendee himself once upon a time. “One way we measure our success is by those kids coming back and remembering that there was a caring adult in their life that spent time with them and provided stability in their life,” says Sprecher. “They might not have appreciated it at the time,” says Lindberg, whose own children are now teenagers. “But now as adults, especially those with their own kids, are like, ‘I’m so grateful that this was here and you were here.’”
Transportation to the center from the 15 schools it services is provided either by one of Rocksolid’s two vans, or by Battle Ground School District school buses that drop off at Bethel Lutheran. Parents then pick up their child any time before the center closes at 5:30 pm. The center runs longer hours on school early release days. “We call those [early school release days] our ‘give back’ days,” says Sprecher. “We try to focus on community service, or giving back to the community or the church, as much as we can.” Lindberg further explains, “We’ve been able to partner with Clark County Food Bank, Share House, the kids have helped build the Rose float . . . We want to get them out there and see that they can give back.” The service has fostered in the youth a sense of belonging and ownership in their community.
“We’re like a big family here,” says Sprecher. “We try to make everybody feel welcome and included and valued. It’s my personal goal to help kids feel the stability of having caring adults around them.”
To learn more about Rocksolid Community Teen Center, visit www.rocksolid-teen.com.