What To Do?

What To Do?

Celeste Ortiz considers herself an average teen in Loudoun County whether it be a weekend or a weekday, winter or summer, she enjoys activities such as playing soccer going to the movies or just plain eating at Chipotle.

"I go to the movies or the mall. Chipotle is kind of like a hangout of sorts, they serve great burritos and guacamole. There aren't enough things to do. I play soccer and that's pretty much it. That's my life in a nutshell," said Ortiz, a rising senior at Potomac Falls High School.

Fellow classmate Christina Lopez agrees, "The pool, gym, movies, sometimes the mall or the D.C. area are where I go. There's definitely not enough in Loudoun, because if you have to drive somewhere it's going to be hard, activities are spaced out. We need a place to hang around in Sterling." Even though teens may not think there's much to do in the area, there are a number of organizations that prove them wrong.

CLAIRE SMITH, spokesperson for The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said, "Our expertise is programming, the more input we receive, the more we're able to program events teenagers in Loudoun County are interested in."

The department provides cultural, educational and recreational activities, as well as volunteer and job opportunities for county residents. Smith said that teens volunteering at events become more involved within their community, taking on volunteer opportunities that interest them. The department's mission is to promote safe and healthy lifestyles for all county citizens.

Every year the department publishes its Activity Guide, one for each of the four seasons. The guide lists locations of the local parks and the upcoming events being offered for the season, such as Waterpark Family Day, white water rafting trips, ice-cream socials, as well as trips to Atlantic City and New York City. It includes events not related to any parks but that have more to do with the community, such as festivals. The Activity Guide can be found at the department's Web site at www.loudoun.gov/prcs.

THE YOUTH AFTER SCHOOL program developed by the department, helps provide students in grades sixth through eighth a place to go once classes let out at the end of the day. Though it is available through the school year only, the program engages teens in activities such as, sports competitions, art programs, homework time and field trips. The department is also responsible for creating the Loudoun County Advisory Commission on Youth, an advisory board made up of nine representatives appointed by the Board of Supervisors, three community representatives and three youth representatives. The commission and the Loudoun Youth Initiative, which is made up of students, work together to build programs that interest youth, as well as provide events and environments that prevent teens from engaging in harmful or unhealthy activities such as drugs, underage alcohol or tobacco use.

Veronica Martin, the specialist for the Loudoun Youth Initiative said, "Unless they get involved and get their voice out, the adults won't know what they're interested in. One way to get involved would be to become a member of the Youth Advisory Commission."

Members of the Youth Initiative voice their opinions during regular meetings with the Commission on Youth. An example of the Youth Initiative's work is the creation of the After Hours Teen Center at the Cascades Library, every Friday night, from 7-10 p.m.

The biggest accomplishment the Youth Initiative has achieved thus far is the Youth Fest, a festival that was held May 6 featuring a Battle of the Bands competition for local musicians, a step show, basketball tournament and other activities. For more information, visit www.loudounteens.org.

MANY TEENS like Mary Tabri feel that there should be more teen centers throughout the county.

"There are plenty of activities in Loudoun County like the gym, bowling, miniature golf, ice skating, restaurants or just hanging out with friends, but I think they should add a place where teens can hang out," said Tabri, a recent graduate of Potomac Falls High School.

One organization filling the void is Next Level 4 Teens (NXL), a nonprofit organization depending solely on donations. NXL provides a place for teenagers to hang out. The new teen center includes five flat-screen televisions, five computers with access to the Internet, a lounge, a video-game area, seminar room, and a cafŽ filled with healthy snacks and drinks, such as smoothies.

NXL is also a place where certified counselors and nutritionists are in the next room, if any one needs to talk about anything that is troubling them.

Founder and director Fred Mitchell said, "This isn't just a place for teenagers to hang out, it is also an educational experience for teens. We help them through their problems. It's more of a community than anything."

Next Level's new program called Teen Girls Group is made up of about six to eight girls of all ages. The girls meet one night per week at the NXL's center, in Pipeline Plaza in Ashburn, to talk to each other about what is going on in their lives and giving advice to one another.

Next Level has been a part of Pebbles Stalham's life for a little more than two years, and as a recent graduate from Stone Bridge High School, she recommends it to all teens. "We can talk about whatever we want, it is a really comfortable atmosphere. There are so many girls that tend to be shy or are uncomfortable with themselves, some even give in to peer pressure. But the group helps them stay strong and make better decisions in their lives" Stalham said. As a new NXL member Christina Smilgelski agrees, "I've only been here for two weeks, but it's fun and a good place to meet new people."

Next Level also provides summer camp for middle-schoolers, where parents can enroll their teens in workshops and art classes two, three or five days per week.

The center is open to middle-school teens, from 4-6:30 p.m. everyday, and high-school teens, from 7:30-10:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call 571-214-1747. The grand opening ceremony for the new building in Ashburn will be Aug. 1.

OF COURSE, not everyone enjoys organized activities and would rather do their own thing.

"Sometimes I play video games like the FIFA World Cup Tour 2006, but mostly I just go out and play sports," said Fletcher Lopez, 14, of Potomac Falls.