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A place for teens to hang out

September 23, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

One of the phrases painted on the wall of the Rampage Teen Social Club in Martinsburg offers an insight into what the place is all about.

"The Rule: Respect Yourself, The Facility, Each Other," it reads.

Rampage is a place for middle and high school students to hang out; where drugs and alcohol are prohibited; where young people of different social and ethnic backgrounds and different hometowns befriend one another; a place loved by its employees as much as the teens they serve.

Rampage holds dances for students twice a week. It also plans other events, such as a New Year's Eve lock-in. It's a project of the Community Prevention Partnership (CPP), which in turn is administered by nonprofit Telemon Corp.

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Rampage dances had been held at the Travelodge in Martinsburg since March. On Sept. 3, club employees and volunteers began moving into their new home, the former site of Miss Irene's Day Care at 615 W. King St.

To get to the club, one must meander along a long sidewalk, or descend a set of metal stairs.

From the outside, it looks like just another part of the abandoned Interwoven Mill complex.

The inside, however, is anything but stagnant. On a recent afternoon, teens mopped the floor, moved furniture, placed molding around door and window frames, vacuumed and chatted.

It was all in preparation for the first dance in the new facility, which was held Friday. Dances are now planned for just about every weekend.

Youths involved


Because the club is downtown, children and teens can walk, although they are told to walk in groups for safety reasons, said Diane Batt, a substance abuse prevention specialist.

Batt is no-nonsense. When she gives teens orders, they obey.

Justin Hitzel, an 11th-grader at Martinsburg High School, said being a peer - someone who volunteers at least eight hours a month for CPP - and working with the club makes him feel like he's accomplishing something. Plus, he has something to do on Saturday nights.

Options were limited before Rampage opened.

"Phone. Computer," is how Hitzel describes what he did before.

"The mall," is where Vania Nealis, an eighth-grader at Martinsburg South Middle School, used to go.

Tracie Welch, prevention program manager, beams when discussing Rampage.

"The kids, they literally have put their sweat into this," she said, motioning toward teens hard at work behind her.

Help from the community - whether it be a donation of wish-list items like a big screen television or game system - is needed, as are chaperones.

"This is a great opportunity to make a difference."

One of the things that impresses Welch is the accepting nature of the teens who attend Rampage.

"They like different types of music. They dress differently. But they're in here, all having a good time," she said. "This has been a lesson in learning how to get along."

All teens are welcome, Welch, 32, said. Right now, those who frequent the club tend to come from Martinsburg's public schools, but some come from private schools in the area.

"I think they're making some close friends that they might not have made in another environment," Welch said.

More than 100 teens on average attend middle school dances on Friday nights, while 40 to 60 high school students attend their dances on Saturdays, Welch estimated.

Dances are purposely held on separate nights.

"A 13-year-old doesn't need to be hanging out with a 17-year-old," said Welch, a mother of three.

No youngster is turned away, Welch said, but potential adult volunteers must undergo a background and fingerprint check.

First-time club teens must fill out an information card and, afterward, everyone must sign in and show ID.

Teens who misbehave might be told to stay away for a while.

"It's sacred ground. You don't come here high or drunk," Welch said.

Transformation


Transforming a day care center into a teen club wasn't easy. Pool tables replaced toys and one wall, which formerly had a Winnie the Pooh mural painted on it, now has "Rampage" painted in large green letters and Asian symbols that translate into words such as peace, youth and dance.

Vincent Groh, who owns the complex and is Rampage's landlord, donated all the furniture in the 9,000-square-foot club.

Groh wanted more, but agreed to accept $2,500 a month in rent for the space, which also houses the Community Prevention Partnership's offices. Before, Welch said she paid the same amount monthly to use Travelodge two nights a week.

Teens are charged $5 to get into the dances, money that goes back into the club. Some teens, who are staying at homeless, children's or women's shelters, receive free passes, and the club is not self-supportive.

To help, Welch said she's hoping businesses will "sponsor" a pillar inside the club for $5,000 a year.

United Way donated $6,000 and made Rampage one of its Day of Caring projects. Volunteers from DuPont helped tremendously, Welch and Batt said.

In the future, Rampage might become a drop-in center, where teens 13 and older could come after school, which might help deter Berkeley's high juvenile crime rate, Welch said.

Teens played a vital part in the club's development, and they named it, too.

"We thought (Rampage) seemed a little edgier," Hitzel said. "We thought it would get people's attention."

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