LA CRESCENTA — Local teens began setting their own rules Tuesday night for a new youth center established to help thwart substance abuse and keep them off the streets.
The group of roughly 40 teens yelled out rules, including no smoking, drinking and fighting, at the center's official opening on the 2500 block of Foothill Boulevard.
The Rev. Bryan Jones assured teens that the center was for their use only and that it would staffed with three adults only during its operation.
"This is your center," he said. "It's you guys who will determine what happens in this place…It's always just a place where you can hangout."
The Firehouse will be open to local high school teens from 6 to 9 p.m. every Tuesday night, giving them a place to study, mingle with friends and participate in peer activities.
The concept of having a safe and fun place for teens was more than a year in the making, officials said.
Teens had complained in a Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition survey that La Crescenta was boring and had few activities, officials said.
The coalition then partnered with St. Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church, which donated the stone building to create the center.
"Positive behavior will be kind of emphasized, but it will be an opportunity for them to have somewhere to go in a safe and positive environment," coalition advisor Susan Dubin said.
The center was a fire station in the 1930s, but it closed for several years until the church acquired the property and began using it.
Community members stepped in to help refurbish the center and donate supplies, including billiard and foosball tables.
The coalition is considering allocating some funding from a recently awarded federal grant to help pay for a counselor at the center, said Mary O'Keefe, a key advisor for the group.
Organizers are also trying to secure school textbooks for the center, said volunteer Aimee Yeghiayan, a Crescenta Valley High School student.
Fellow teens, she said, have expressed interest in regularly visiting the center, which was also designated as a Safe Place — a Salvation Army program that provides safe havens for troubled youth.
"It's something to do," Aimee said. "Up here, we don't have very much."
Having the community care enough about local teens to help them veer away from drugs and alcohol has been unexpected, she said.
"None of us would have ever expected the community to really back us up that much, especially with something like this," Aimee said. "Pretty much the teens are running it. We are the one's making all the big decisions about it."