For ten-year-old Mackenzie Hubbard, the Rosendale Youth Center on Route 32 is all about “eating popcorn, drawing, sitting in the tall chairs, jump-roping on the playground, being able to hula-hoop inside and being the boss.” That last thought, while it brings a smile, is actually rather revealing in this day and age when kids often have every last extracurricular activity planned out for them with precision. The Rosendale Youth Center is a bit of a throwback to the days when kids got out of school for the day and basically decided for themselves what their leisure time would involve without it all being scheduled for them.
“It’s really more of an open door for kids to play games and just be free,” says Ernest Klepeis, who took over in June as director of the Rosendale Youth Program. “We provide a safe space and try to have an open and friendly atmosphere where kids can come to do homework or play games or go outside or learn something new from our staff.”
There are no membership fees to visit the Rosendale Youth Center and all of the activities are free, with the exception of field trips to places that charge an admission fee. The youth program is funded by the town and through private donations, assisted by local residents who volunteer their time and energy.
During the school year, the youth center opens every weekday from 3-9 p.m. under the supervision of two staff members. The center is also open from 1-9 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays (when not rented out for a birthday party; scheduling updates are posted at “Rosendale Youth Program” on Facebook).
There are a few rules; when kids come into the center, they have to sign in, for example. And they don’t provide babysitting; kids under age seven must be accompanied by an adult. Staff supervision is limited to inside the youth center.
Rondout Valley Middle School student Liam Roddy, 12, likes to play foosball and ping pong at the center and use the computers. “There’s just a lot of stuff here to do,” he says when asked why he’s there a few days each week. Last month Liam was one of 18 volunteers who put on the center’s Halloween party and parade, helping to set up the event and serving as a scary character in the haunted house that had lines an hour long to get in.
Thomas Roddy — Liam’s older brother — started going to the Rosendale Youth Center at age five. Now 19 years old, he works as a recreation aide there while attending SUNY Ulster. “I think it’s a good meeting space to meet up with your friends,” he says.
Sixteen-year-old David Brown says the center is a place to play video games with his friends, or shoot hoops outside in good weather. He goes there on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The center has a wide range of video game systems to play on, he says, and a lot of sports equipment to use on the field outside. (Equipment is available to play softball, tennis, volleyball, tee-ball, basketball, badminton and football.)
Nick Plumeri, 15, a Rondout Valley High School student, volunteered as a counselor-in-training for the center’s summer camp this year and serves as a youth member on the committee that oversees the town’s youth program. The Rosendale Youth Commission consists of ten members; half of them over age 21 with the other half between 14 and 20 years old.
“When I come to the youth center I usually look forward to playing video games with my friends,” Plumeri says. “And badminton has also become one of my favorite activities.” He’s at the center as many as five days a week, typically after school from around 4:30 to 7 p.m. When asked what he would tell his friends about the recreation center — those who don’t already know about it — Plumeri says, “I would tell them to come to the Rosendale Youth Center to help make it grow into a place not just known as the building behind the Recreation Center, but as a place where you can go if you want to have a good time and hang out with friends. I think it has a lot of potential to become known as this, especially under the guidance of the youth program director Ernest Klepeis, who is always looking for ways to improve the youth center and come up with fun activities for the kids to enjoy.”
Klepeis attended the center himself as a kid and worked at the summer camp under longtime youth director Kathy Wade, who retired in the spring of 2014. His goal is to strengthen the programming offered and build on the loyal following the youth center has in the community. “It’s always been a guiding light for youth in the area,” he says, adding that in addition to the supervised recreation, kids learn volunteer skills there and how to be involved in their community on an age-appropriate level.
Klepeis is also “committed to providing some great new events,” he says. He’d like to start a weekly music night, for one thing, and create some new programs utilizing the expertise of his recreation aides. Thomas Roddy, for example, is knowledgeable about chess, so he could possibly offer chess lessons and set up tournaments.
One of the most popular activities at the center is the six-week summer day camp. “It’s the most inexpensive day camp in Ulster County,” says Klepeis. “It’s a very active program; we get three sessions of 70 kids for two weeks at a time. And we employ about 15 older youth from the area as counselors, age 16 and older. It’s one of the best things you can spend your summer doing as a college or high school student.”
Special events include things like the recent Halloween party that was a huge success, says Klepeis, with more than 300 people showing up for popcorn and apple cider along with the haunted house and a costume parade down Main Street. They do a holiday open house in December and an Earth Day clean-up each April along with field trips and educational workshops. The staff is also equipped to offer informal counseling, advocacy and agency referrals and employment assistance.
Next on the horizon for the youth center is a Thanksgiving hike on Sunday, November 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to Rosendale Ridge. The group will meet at the youth center to go hiking along the Mohonk property in Rosendale. Parents and guardians are welcome to come along. Space is limited to 14 children. The walk is appropriate for ages seven and up, and will be led by Klepeis and another director along with two staff members. The event is free but pre-registration is necessary.
The Rosendale Youth Center is located at 1055 Route 32 in Rosendale. More information is available at Rosendale Youth Program on Facebook, www.townofrosendale.com, (845) 658-8982 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.