Jace Johnson, 18, of Kamiah, Idaho, a senior at Kamiah High School, played a leadership role in opening a teen center in his small rural community to provide local youth with a safe, fun alternative to substance abuse. Jace said his volunteering “sprouted from watching my community slowly deteriorate into a town riddled with drugs, crimes, and everything in between.” As president and a founding member of the town’s youth advisory board, Jace knew that with only a four-day school week and few extracurricular activities, it was too easy for young people to slip into drug and alcohol abuse. “I realized that not only did teens need activities to partake in, they needed a safe place to go,” he said.
So in 2017, he and fellow advisory board members decided to start raising money to open a teen center, primarily by hosting lunches and applying for grants. It took about a year to collect enough funds to rent space, furnish it, pay for utilities and buy supplies. Then community members donated a pool table, televisions, furniture, games and other items. Since opening in September 2019, the center has recorded thousands of teen visits and has hosted almost 500 youth events, including concerts, game nights, movies, theme park trips and tournaments. It also has provided classes in a wide range of activities from cooking to budgeting to sewing, subjects not offered in the area’s school. Moreover, younger kids are able to spend time at the center on summer mornings to attend arts and crafts classes. Most importantly, data compiled by local law enforcement has shown a marked decrease in drug, alcohol and tobacco use among teenagers, said Jace.