WINSTON — When Roxana Grant walked into the Winston Teen Center almost a year ago, the room looked like it had only ever been used as storage.
On the first day of winter break, the room was just as crowded, but this time it was because of people rather than things. The center’s membership has grown substantially since Grant took leadership.
According to Grant, the center was founded in 2008 after tragedy struck the Winston community when two boys were playing with a hand gun and one was shot.
The teen center closed in August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Grant was hired in January 2022 to breathe life back into the center. When it reopened a few months later, attendance was low at first. But each week, a few more students showed up. Participation started as three or four students, but membership has grown to almost 100 students.
It was Grant’s goal to make the center a safe, all-inclusive space. She advocates individuality and kindness as the biggest parts of life, but gives the teens structure in which they can safely learn and grow.
“Their safety is our highest concern,” Grant said. “We accept people for who they are and we don’t judge. That’s not my place. You’re here, you’re safe, you’re happy — that’s what’s important to me.”
The center is open to any Douglas County students from sixth grade through 12th grade and offers much more than a place to hang out after school.
There are music lessons, cooking classes, STEM learning, entrepreneurship, a variety of games and assortment of craft projects. They also get after school assistance and a USDA-approved meal.
Students, which is what Grant calls each of the center’s members, are the ones shaping the center’s opportunities and growth.
“It’s great. The next generation really wants to do something,” Grant said. “We actually teach them life skills. The biggest thing that I’m so proud of these teens for is that they have learned sportsmanship with one another.”
Madi Plale was in a bit of trouble in school when she first started attending the center. Instead of spending her time alone at home, Madi’s mom decided she would spend her afternoons at the teen center.
Madi now serves as secretary for the center’s Youth Entrepreneurial Society, an opportunity she never expected. Not only has she made friends that have “helped me become a better person,” lessons from the center have taught Madi how to be nicer to people.
“To be honest, I think is not to judge people by their cover,” the 14-year-old said about what the center has taught her. “I’ve met a lot of cool interesting people here and when they walked in, I was like ‘hmmm,’ but they’re actually pretty cool.”
Grant is proud of all the students, taking the time to interact with each of them even while helping reorganize the center. Space is limited, especially with the center’s current enrollment.
That’s why Grant’s next goal is constructing a new teen center.
“One of the things that I am hoping to help drive is building a new teen center and food bank building combined,” Grant explained. “We’d like to do a two story L-shaped building. It would be the food bank and the teen center and then the second floor would be storage and executive offices.”
The new building — for which the land has already been donated — might be two years away, but that isn’t stopping Grant from moving forward with other plans. She has a long list of programs and learning opportunities that will begin in the new year.
“If I had one thing to get out, it’s that I want the teens to know we are here five days a week, we care, and we want to get to know them,” Grant said.