Teen centers can be safe gathering places for young people to socialize provided they are well-organized, financially sound and have a dedicated staff of adults. Without leadership and direction these centers can become neighborhood hazards that attract drug use and gang activity.
Decide if your teen center will be a for-profit or nonprofit business and what type of incorporation status you’ll need. Research how many teens will potentially be served by consulting population statistics from your local economic development authority. Consider where funding will come from, such as loans, grants or community contributions. Determine the types of programs and activities you want to offer, your hours of operation and a staffing plan.
Go to your local government’s neighborhood or community development agency to ask about permitting rules and stipulations about where such a facility can be located or special-use permits and insurance requirements specific to your community. You may also find practical help at these agencies. They’re usually good resources for information on existing teen centers and on stories of success and failure in the business. They may be able to direct you toward possible sites and potential funding opportunities as well.
Contact local recreation centers, established youth groups and school and church-based youth program directors. Talk with them about ways to build a teen center into an existing program. For example, a rec center may have extra room to lease for a teen center. A local non-profit mentoring organization might be willing to collaborate and use their established reputation to help co-organize a center. Consult with local parents and parental organizations like PTAs to build trust and seek input. Involving others will introduce you to people with knowledge in the youth services industry who may be willing to share advice and insight into launching your business.
Conduct community meetings to gauge support for your center. Ask to speak at a town hall meeting or city council meeting to present your ideas and solicit feedback. Be prepared to address objections and to outline your plans. Request that interested community leaders serve in an advisory capacity to help you get your teen center off the ground.