Windsor: Hang Out Here
Storefront Space Opens for Teens
Rachel Williams, 24, second from right, is president of the Youth Managed Cafe, and is one of the group's original members. Following a meeting at the group's new space in Windsor, Vt., on August 1, 2013, Williams and several local youths step outside to take photographs for an informational campaign about smoking for Williams' other job as a youth outreach coordinator. The 802 Lounge in Windsor will be a substance free space for youth and open to the public. (Valley News — James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Rachel Williams, president of the Youth Managed Cafe, right, holds a meeting in the 802 Lounge with some of the group's members including from left, Keri Olivero, 17, Morgan Husband, 17, and Caleb Sanville, 18, all of Windsor, Vt., on August 1, 2013. They were organizing the opening party for the lounge that will take place August 9, 2013. After 10 years, the group finally has a physical space, donated for the first year by River Valley Real Estate. (Valley News — James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Ten years after the Youth Managed Cafe was formed in White River Junction with the goal of opening a safe space for teens to hang out, hold events and express their creativity, the organization's 802 Lounge is scheduled to open in Windsor, Vt., on August 9, 2013. A table in the River Street storefront is covered with blackboard paint to hold the thoughts and doodles of visitors. (Valley News — James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor — In the mid 1900s, 5 River St. was a grocery store. Then, for a few years, the Vermont Federal Bank. Then a beauty salon.
Now the small space is the 802 Lounge, a bona fide hangout for the teens and tweens of Youth Managed Cafe to socialize, study and “join the revolution.”
That’s the motto of the 10-year-old organization that has survived in the Upper Valley, despite never having a permanent home of its own, until now. Started in 2003 in White River Junction, Youth Managed Cafe was the brainchild of Patti Morgan, a then-clinician in the Hartford School District, and Kim Souza, owner of Revolution clothing store in White River Junction.
In its infancy, the organization drew kids, aged 12 to 21, to music shows and art workshops. They’d meet wherever they could find a space — often at Souza’s clothing store.
Rachel Williams, an original Youth Managed Cafe member, attended those “guerilla-style meetings.” In high school, she was there as the group worked to gain members and raise funds for their namesake cafe. They never reached that goal.
But along the way, Williams and her peers cultivated an atmosphere that modeled Souza and Morgan’s original vision — a group of young people who could hang out, free of drugs and alcohol, and give back to their community.
Williams graduated from Hartford High School in 2007 and studied film at the Savannah College of Art and Design. A decade after she first became invoved with Youth Managed Cafe, Williams, 23, is the executive director and president of its board, and the organization finally has its own place.
About two years ago, the board decided the needs of Upper Valley teens in the White River Junction area were being served by other organizations, like The Junction Teen Life Skills Center on at the new Listen at River Point center on Route 4.
They were shopping for a new project when a counselor from Windsor High School approached Williams, citing a need for a substance-free, teen hangout in town.
“It was just kind of a perfect fit from the start,” Williams said.
When Town Manager Tom Marsh came in about two years ago, he fielded complaints from Windsor residents who said there were too many people hanging around town. This summer though, he said residents seem to feel like the loitering has decreased.
Morgan Husband, 17, a 2013 graduate of Windsor High School and a Youth Managed Cafe member, said she and friends have often been told by police to clear away from sidewalks downtown. Windsor Police Chief Steve Soares said the town has dealt with its fair share of loitering.
“The reason we move them along generally is because they’re obstructing the free passage of other persons on the sidewalk,” he said. “Like most teenagers, they have a lot of energy and no way to vent it.”
Husband was at the very first meeting Williams organized in the school resource center. With the help of Terri Herzog, the school to home coordinator at the high school, nearly 10 kids congregated to hear what Williams had to say. The executive director came prepared, offering enthusiasm and sweet tarts.
Two years later, Husband has been hired as an 802 Lounge employee and even contributed some of her own ideas to its incarnation, including a tutoring program.
“When I went to school there was so many kids that needed help,” the 17-year-old said, explaining her concern that recent layoffs and the instability of the school’s math department is taking a toll on Windsor students. “The school has been through a lot. There’s people who are doing horrible in math and there’s no one there to help them.”
The most recent statistics, from the 2010-2011 school year, on the Vermont Department of Education website show Windsor High School’s dropout rate was 6.44 percent, more than double the statewide average of 2.55 percent.
According to the school’s online profile, the percentage of Windsor High School graduates attending four-year colleges had been steadily rising since 2009, jumping from 53 percent to 58 percent from 2009 to 2012. But it dropped this past school year to 46 percent. However, the number of students attending two-year colleges has climbed from 13 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in 2013, and the percentage of students entering the military has more than doubled to 7 percent during the same period.
But Sybil Williams, Rachel Williams’ mother and vice president of the Youth Managed Cafe board, said Youth Managed Cafe is about gaining knowledge beyond textbooks and equations, too.
“It’s about giving back to the community and learning the little things you don’t learn in school,” she said, like technical and business skills, in addition to time, money and people management.
In the mid 20th century, Windsor was a thriving industrial town. But the local economy took a hit when two major employers — Cone Automatic Machine Co. and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. plant — closed their doors in the late 1900s, said Barbara Rhoad, the town archivist for the Windsor Historical Society.
When it comes to the youth having a particularly difficult plight, she said “I don’t think Windsor is any different than any other town in the Upper Valley.” She mentioned the town’s very active parks and recreation department, complimenting their camps and programming for the six to 12 age group.
Marsh, the town manager, agrees that the recreation department works hard to provide activities for Windsor youth, but mentioned that it’s particularly difficult to entertain the 13 to 18 crowd.
“I do hear from kids that there isn’t a lot to do,” Marsh said, explaining that when adults hear kids complain about Windsor’s perceived lack of social events, their initial instinct is to then create something for them to do.
“But it’s not what the kids want to do,” Marsh said.
The recreation department has tried extending gym hours so kids can play basketball on a Friday night, Marsh said, but often found themselves staring at an empty court. The town manager credits it to a disconnect between the older and younger cohorts in Windsor, offering that although he is in his fifties, it seems like just yesterday he was a teenager. But he wasn’t, and admittedly said he doesn’t really know what kind of social experiences today’s young people desire.
“Just the statement ‘there’s nothing for us to do’ is as much of a cop out as it was in the 40s and 50s,” Marsh said. “But back then there were at least bowling alleys and movie theatres.”
The lack of those social spaces, Marsh concluded, is why he thinks the 802 Lounge could really benefit Windsor teens.
“If they think they don’t have anything to do, they can go to 802 Lounge and figure out what to do,” Marsh said, who has been supportive of Rachel Williams and Youth Managed Cafe. “I hope they give it a chance. Whatever impression they have of it, there shouldn’t be an impression. It’s going to evolve into whatever the kids want it to evolve into.”
Youth Managed Cafe’s history, though a short one, is ever-present at 5 River St., complimenting the space’s already rich history.
“We have a lot of the past collected in here,” Rachel Williams said Thursday afternoon, clad in a bright red 1950s style dress, though flecks of white paint were visible on her foot and behind her ear from her morning spent repainting the bathroom.
“We’re at the point now where we can’t stop,” Rachel Williams said with a laugh. “It’s going to happen.”
The space was donated by River Valley Properties after sitting empty for about a year, Rachel Williams said.
The weathered hardwood floors are original and so is the tin ceiling. The meat cooler, built into the back wall, is from the building’s grocery store days, though it’s used to store art supplies now, rather than beef. Traces of the beauty salon are present, too, including the large mirrors and shampooing sinks, now used to rinse paint brushes.
The place has character, though, just like the young adults who will soon lounge on couches from Listen Thrift Shop and dig into the donated books and donated board games on the donated shelf in the corner. Soon, art work from Youth Managed Cafe members, current and former, will accompany the already colorful and freshly painted bright blue walls.
There’s still work to be done before 802 Lounge officially opens its doors to the public on Aug. 9, but Williams is encouraged by the enthusiasm she’s seen from a dozen or so dedicated teens this summer. They were, and will continue to be, instrumental in the planning process, Rachel Williams said.
“We don’t give anything to the kids necessarily,” Rachel Williams said. “They have to work at it and earn it.”
The group’s original motto, “join the revolution,” is still relevant today, even through the members have changed in the last 10 years.
“It’s speaking to youth joining the creation of something in their community that they’re in control of,” Rachel Williams said. And even after they age out (21 years old is the cut off), Youth Managed Cafe members can still volunteer or serve on the board.
“It’s been a goal since the beginning that former members be on the board,” Rachel Williams said.
The organization is still accepting donations of all kinds, but is asking especially for books, furniture, cleaning supplies and toiletries. There will be a TV installed soon, so movies and video games are welcomed, too. The lounge will have free Wi-Fi, and Williams is hoping to get a few iPads or computers donated so members can use them to do homework.
Half a dozen Windsor young adults gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss party plans for the lounge’s grand opening.
They pondered the merits of quiche (a board member suggested they have it at the opening), but opted for barbecue chips instead. They told Williams they wanted balloons and Christmas lights. One girl offered to create a Facebook event.
As Rachel Williams joked with the kids gathered in the nearly complete 802 Lounge, they casually sketched and scribbled with chalk on the table, painted black with chalkboard paint, leaving their mark on their group’s new home.
Katie Mettler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3234.