It turns out the adults at City Hall actually do know what’s cool, and they’re throwing some great parties this summer.
The parties also are safe, and they’re attracting hundreds of teenagers who may not have many alternatives for weekend fun to community centers in the central and southern parts of the city.
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The Club KC events, now in their second year, have expanded. Last summer, the clubs caught the attention of teenagers and became so popular that the events were reaching capacity before the parties even began.
Last Friday night, a 14-year-old party-goer lined up with his friends outside the Brush Creek Community Center nearly an hour before Club KC opened to make sure they had a spot inside.
“It’s a good place to be,” he said. “There’s no fights out here. Basically, it’s a blessing.”
This was his first night at Club KC, but several friends have come out to Brush Creek nearly every weekend. They like to have fun, meet girls and dance, and they like that the program offers a place that can keep troublemakers out.
“It’s better because it keeps us out of house parties,” another young man said. “I feel more protected with the police around.”
Club KC was born of the discussion about a void in the social scene for young people after gunfire on the Country Club Plaza injured three teenagers in the fall of 2011 and sent Mayor Sly James ducking for cover.
That incident highlighted the need to provide a place for all young people –– not just the few who cause problems –– alternative, safe places to go on the weekends, Club KC’s organizer Jeff Atkins said.
“You might think it’s for kids who start trouble, but it’s not. It’s for everyone,” he said.
The question then is not whether safe places for young people are good or bad, but whether the city can continue to provide that service without some help.
Weekend entertainment options for young people in the central part of the city are limited, said Roosevelt Lyons, senior adviser for civic and community engagement in the mayor’s office. For those teens, the Plaza is the closest movie theater and mall atmosphere.
“There’s a pretty big void as far as any private organizations on the east side,” Lyons said. “The least we could do was open those (the community centers) up and offer a safe place for young people to go on the weekends.”
This year, the city has added a fourth center, extended the weekend parties by four weeks and doubled Club KC’s budget to $400,000. It’s part of the Mayor’s Nights activities, which also include Night Hoops and Night Kicks.
“There are not the safe spaces that we need for kids right now,” city spokesman Danny Rotert said. “And in that case, yes, it’s the city’s role. We need safe spaces for those kids, and I think the city can provide those successfully.”
But the capacity of the community centers just isn’t enough to accommodate the potential demand, council member John Sharp said.
In the not so distant past, Sharp remembers private businesses providing recreational opportunities for young people; places like bowling alleys and skating rinks. There were more movie theaters, too.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction, but I think we have to acknowledge that what we’ve been able to provide so far is just a drop in the bucket compared with what we need,” Sharp said.
In the long term, Lyons said the city and Club KC organizers hope to work with other youth organizations, like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club, to create a calendar of all weekend events or to forge partnerships to create similar programs.
For now, though, the program satisfies a community need.
“I think the benefits of the program definitely outweigh the costs,” Lyons said. “We’ll continue to do it as long people come out and enjoy it.”
Since the incident on the Plaza, there’s been a lot of negative attention on local youth even though most teens don’t want to be associated with that kind of violence or crime, Club KC volunteer Cedric Norton said. At Club KC, they can avoid those troublemakers.
“They don’t want to deal with any of that. They’re just here to have a good time,” Norton said. “Of course, they like loud music, too.”
And loud music is Club KC’s specialty. Each weekend, teens come out to listen to local deejays blast the newest music and remixes. In the lobby, the party-goers can grab inexpensive snacks and drinks.
By the end of last Friday night, 172 teens had danced under the deejays’ flashing lights on the gym’s darkened basketball courts.
Without Club KC, many of these young people would find themselves bored at home, crowding into a house party or violating curfews around town, which is a recipe for trouble, said Byron Ashford, recreational director for the Brush Creek Community Center.
“Here we provide them with a safe atmosphere to party, hang out with their peers and with security to monitor it,” Ashford said.
Security isn’t an issue with the kids, either, Atkins said. Most of the teens recognize the police officers or event staff as the same officers who work in their schools and the parents who work in their community centers. There’s a mutual respect there, he said.
Officer Kevin Sorrells often works the doors at Club KC’s events at Brush Creek. He was a teacher in Kansas City for 10 years, so he knows many of the young people coming to the parties.
While he supervised the line last Friday, he cracked jokes with just about every teen who walked through the door.
“All kids like structure, whether they know it or not,” he said.