Nothing to do? No easy answers for teenage complaint
When individuals think of Lake Tahoe, a plethora of activities comes to mind: skiing, kayaking, hiking, camping, mountaineering, gambling and sailing, just to name a few.
But if you’re a teenager and you lack transportation, money and a legal ID stating your passage into the 21-and-older world, the options become much more limited.
South Lake Tahoe resident Kim Asplund-Mckinney raised two daughters in the area, and she said times were tough as a single mother.
When her daughters were in their teen years six years ago, she said she became frustrated with the lack of entertainment directed toward the older youths in town.
“They just drift if they don’t have anything to belong to,” Asplund-Mckinney said.
Not much has changed since Asplund-Mckinney’s kids went through school.
About 1,400 teenagers attend South Tahoe High School, Mount Tallac Continuation School and the Transitional Learning Center. When school is out, about 25 percent of students head off to sports, another 17 percent are involved in drama, and about 14 percent are in the music program.
Although some might have jobs, that potentially leaves hundreds of teens with nothing to do after school.
Options for teens vary with the different seasons, and whether school is going on or not.
“It depends on if it’s summer or winter, and it depends on if you have money or not,” said sophomore Alexis Nunes-Fenley.
A ski pass at Heavenly Ski Resort is expensive, Nunes-Fenley said, and students’ budgets are limited.
Freshman Natalie Flynn said teens can’t go to the clubs because of their age.
“Until you’re 21, there’s not a lot to do,” Flynn said.
The magnetic pull for gathering teenagers is the casino corridor, along with Heavenly Village, STHS counselor Aaron Barnett said. Teens hang out in the casino arcades, which exposes them to gambling and bars – things that don’t mix well with the underage crowd.
Alcohol and drugs are easy to come by, especially in a transient area like Lake Tahoe, Asplund-Mckinney said.
House parties are a popular pastime among teenagers, one that spans multiple generations. These situations can lead youths to bad choices.
STHS senior Sam Rahbari said most teens don’t do anything, unless they go to parties to drink. If teens aren’t involved with sports or other school activities, then they don’t have many choices.
Since Tahoe is a sports-oriented place, options are limited for teens not interested in sports. Freshman Shelby Smith said teens can take art or music classes at the college, but many don’t have the time or money for those activities.
“These kids want to do good; they just don’t know where to start,” said Adrian Escobedo, bilingual community liaison for the high school.
Many youths aren’t educated about what other options are out there and sometimes don’t realize there is a world outside Tahoe and outside school, he said.
But when the options are there, teens do make good choices.
At the South Tahoe High School dance in February, more than 700 kids took a Breathalyzer test while going in and out of the dance, and not one blew above a zero, Principal Ivone Larson said.
If they’re doing something fun, they stay out of trouble, Escobedo said.
Attempts have been made to create teen-friendly hangouts. One of those now is in the history books: Tahoe Underground.
Owner Chris Hammett attempted the underage venue from October to January but reverted back to the 21-and-older crowd.
Hammett said he hoped the business would have been up and running in a few weeks, but it was going to take longer than that.
“If you can sit back and let it build itself for a few months, there’s a market,” Hammett said.
He said he wants to try again at a new location once his bar gets going.
Another spot in town provides teens with a cost-free hangout. Tahoe Youth & Family Services provides a safe area for teens looking to chill.
Cheyanne Lane, services outreach coordinator, said The Drop-In Center provides services for couch surfers and teens alike. It’s a place where teens can hang out without getting into mischief.
The center used to have a coffee table in the middle of the room, but Lane opted to switch it out for a foosball table.
“It’s amazing how much more you can learn in five minutes of play than a half-hour of conversation,” Lane said.
The crowd changes every day, every week and every month. Usually, between one and eight kids stop by, Lane said. She passes out fliers at schools and at the casino corridor on weekends. Lane said her best advertising, though, is word of mouth. If teens tell their friends, they’ll come.
“People have to hear it from each other,” Lane said.
Sometimes it’s hard for teens to find things to do because they don’t want to hang out with younger kids. That’s why places such as the Boys & Girls Club and the city’s ice arena and the recreation center aren’t very popular once kids reach high school. It’s just not cool anymore, Lane said.
“We have to do the best with what we have,” she said. “We’ve got to fight for them.”
Many high schoolers said an indoor soccer field would be successful, since many teens play soccer. This would give teens somewhere to go and hang out during the winter.
The 56-Acre project, which is a cooperative with the city of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County, is setting aside space for a youth facility.
“Right now, it’s a box on a map,” Debbie Vreeland, 56-Acre Project manager, said last month.
What will go in the space hasn’t been decided, such as a skate park or a climbing wall, but it will be for the youths, Vreeland said.
School officials and community organizations have taken a proactive approach to ending gang activity and giving youths more things to do.
The Youth Task Force began in January 2007 after an escalation of violence possibly caused by gang activity last school year, when 32 fights broke out in a three-month period.
The task force is making progress. Escobedo and Amy Jackson, Mount Tallac Continuation School counselor, spoke at the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board meeting in April, telling the board members about parent-outreach nights, a male student-intervention program called the A-Team and joint efforts from the community.
With all the efforts made by community members and school officials, the problem remains the same: Teens need to have a sense of belonging somewhere – whether it’s on a team, with a mentor, a band, an art class or something else that interests them. Without that, community members agree that youths will drift toward bad situations if other choices aren’t presented.
The city of South Lake Tahoe’s Parks and Recreation Department offers options for teens, even those with a tight budget.
“We try to keep it as dirt-cheap as possible, because we’re trying to get kids in,” said Robert Swain, recreation supervisor for the ice arena.
When providing programs, Swain said they try to structure the programs with just bare bones so they’re accessible to more people.
Swain said most recreation programs and other sports clubs in town have scholarship programs. Teens can apply for one with the recreation department by filling out a form, and they can receive a $100 scholarship.
Amy Jackson, Mount Tallac Continuation School counselor, also has started the Sports Connection. The program connects a sponsor with a youth who wants to participate in a sport but can’t afford it. Jackson said the sponsor provides financial backing for the athlete so he or she is able to play.
— Lake Tahoe Community College: College Drive and Al Tahoe Boulevard; (530) 541-4660
— Recreation & Swim Pool Complex: 1180 Rufus Allen Blvd.; (530) 542-6056
— Ice Arena: 1176 Rufus Allen Blvd.; (530) 542-6262
— The Drop-In: 3331-C Sandy Way; (530) 541-2445
— Bijou Municipal Golf Course: 3464 Fairway Ave. at Johnson Boulevard; (530) 542-6097
— Bijou Community Park: 1201 Al Tahoe Blvd. Disc golf course, skateboard park, fitness trail, picnic area, game court area, sand volleyball courts and horseshoe pits.
— South Lake Tahoe Community Play Fields: 1300 Al Tahoe Blvd. Multiuse play fields.
— Explore Tahoe: 4114 Lake Tahoe Blvd.; (530) 542-2089. Whenever you’re stuck on year-round activities, find a wealth of ideas here.
— Kahle Community Center: 236 Kingsbury Grade; (775) 586-7271
— Zephyr Cove Park: Highway 50 and Warrior Way. Softball/soccer field, large picnic area, tennis courts, play area, exercise trail system and disc-golf course.
— Kahle Park: Highway 50 and Kingsbury Grade. Baseball/softball field, soccer fields, play areas, picnic area, outdoor basketball hoops and a pedestrian/bicycle path.
— Brautovich Park: Andria Way and Kingsbury Grade. Junior soccer field, play area and horseshoe pits.
— Baldwin Beach
— Kiva Beach
— Camp Richardson
— Pope Beach
— Regan Beach
— El Dorado Beach
— Lakeside Beach
— Nevada Beach
— Round Hill Pines
— Zephyr Cove
— Cave Rock Beach