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A safe, après-prom option open to all MVRHS juniors and their dates

From left, volunteers Mary Holmes, Laurel Reddington, and Amy Sullivan, co-chair Debbie DeBettencourt, co-chair Rachel Araujo, Tony Lombardi, and Paula Peters. Not shown: Shannon Donovan, Beth Hayes, and Sterling Bishop.–Photo by Ralph Stewart

The prom. A right of passage for us all, full of updos, fancy clothes, dancing, and pure fun. Post-prom. A potentially unnerving time period for the moms and dads of the promgoers, with unsupervised activities and potential for trouble.

One year ago, a group of Island parents and like-minded community members organized the first After Prom Party, which was held at the YMCA in Oak Bluffs. Many off-Island communities have sought to create safe drug- and alcohol-free after-prom alternatives for their teens, and the Vineyard version is a good example of the teamwork needed to pull it off. The people at the helm last year (and some this year) were Deb DeBettencourt, Rachel Araujo, and Amy Sullivan. Others assisting were Michelle Bettencourt, Sarah Townes, Lisa Bonneau, Theresa Manning, and Tony Lombardi from Alex’s Place at the Y. Also supporting the effort two years in a row were Jamie Vanderhoop from Youth Task Force with organization and finances, and Sterling Bishop as master of ceremonies and DJ. New helpers this year are Laurel Reddington, Mary Holmes, Shannon Donovan, Paula Peters, and Beth Hayes.

“Debbie [deBettencourt] and Rachel [Araujo] have really been the pivotal people in making this happen,” said After Prom committee member Mary Holmes to The Times. Many years ago there was a post-prom party at the Boys and Girls Club in Edgartown, but before last year “there hasn’t been one for a very long time,” said Ms. Holmes.

“What has been a tradition is for the kids to rent limos, and they’re kind of unsupervised, and they’re not a very safe way for them to celebrate after the prom,” Ms. Holmes said. “As a group of parents and community members, we really wanted to find an alternative to that.”

“We want to do this because we don’t want there to be a tragedy,” said Ms. DeBettencourt.

Ms. DeBettencourt and Ms. Holmes did not even have juniors as children when they began working on the after-prom party. They, and others involved, are hoping that the party picks up steam and will be the thing to do once their own children get to prom age. “It will take a number of years to make it a popular thing for kids,” said Ms. Holmes, “and that is what we are really working hard to do.”

“Last year we had a small, but successful party,” said Ms. DeBettencourt. “There were about 25 kids in attendance last year. If we have 50 kids this year, that would be awesome. We hope that in five years’ time the party becomes the norm.”

The YMCA has generously donated its facility on the night of May 16th from 10 pm to 5 am, but the After Prom Committee must pay the YMCA staff. There is a DJ at poolside beginning at 2 am, excellent food, prizes, music, games, inflatables, a photo booth, and much more. Prizes include a GoPro camera, a charter fishing trip, parasailing, free studio time at YMCA’s Alex’s Place, and a refrigerator.

The event is open to all juniors and their dates, but juniors who do not attend the prom are welcome to attend the YMCA afterparty. Admission is free. There will be parent chaperones in attendance, “but we have promised the juniors that there will not be junior parents at the event,” said Ms. Holmes.

The doors open at 10 pm and close at 12:30 am, allowing no further admissions. The party folks can leave anytime, but they cannot re-enter the party. As for driving off, a junior operator driver’s license prevents those who have been driving for less than six months from driving between 12:30 am and 5 am, and applies to those ages 16½ to 17 years old — the age of many juniors. Breakfast will be served before the 5 am end time.

The 2015 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) junior prom will be held this Saturday, May 16, at the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark. After, a bus that will transport those who wish to attend to the YMCA After Prom Party.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s a 50-50 split between people who think it’s a great idea and people who don’t,” MVRHS senior Charlotte Potter told The Times. “And generally those who don’t like the idea didn’t go, but I heard from some of my friends that it was fun and there was a lot to do!”

At 8 pm on May 16 the After Prom Committee is hosting an Open House at the YMCA for all junior parents and donors. In addition to financial donors, many local establishments such as Sharky’s, Giordano’s, Edgartown Pizza, 7a, the Black Dog, and Vineyard Bottled Water have donated food and drinks.

The 2015 After Prom Party committee is happy to accept monetary donations to help with event costs. They have raised $5,000 so far, and have spent the same amount. They are also collecting prize donations, and desire anything related to cars, electronics, college, beach, events, sports, and various types of lessons, to name a few. Monetary donations can be sent to the YMCA in Oak Bluffs with “After Prom Party 2015” written in the memo. Information is also available on Facebook at facebook.com/mvafterprom2014.

Ms. Holmes summarized the event. “It’s a safe place for your kids to be all night after the prom.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard announced the formation of the Memory Café, known as “The Thursday Club at the Y,” which will kick off with an open house on Thursday, Jan. 29, from 10 am to 12 pm at Alex’s Place, the Teen Center at the YMCA. The event will introduce the organizing team, as well as some Islanders struggling with memory loss and their care partners. The community is encouraged to attend to help plan the future of this program.

According to the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, people over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing demographic on Martha’s Vineyard, and over time many will be coping with dementia or memory loss. Many experience this challenge themselves or care for someone who does, and younger people can also struggle with memory issues. The population of care partners is also growing, and many share common concerns about those they care for. At “The Thursday Club at the Y,” those with memory concerns and their care partners can find information, learn strategies, and get support.

Memory cafés are social clubs started by people experiencing memory loss who do not want to lose the opportunity for social connections and friendships. “The Thursday Club at the Y” is intended to be a place for people to relax and have fun. Memory cafés got their start in the Netherlands, and are common now both there and in Britain. The idea to develop these “judgment-free zones” for people with mild dementia or memory loss has caught on in the United States.

This program has been developed by a team of professionals with expertise in the area of memory loss and dementia. The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, a 501(c)(3) organization, is currently seeking funding, and welcomes all donations.

Deb Rossetti teaching an infant to swim. — Photo courtesy of Deb Rossetti

The YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard is seeking to enroll members in a program designed to teach infants and young children basic water skills. Registration for the infant swimming resource program is now open to children between 6 months and 6 years of age. The course is separate from regular swim instruction.

“Living on an Island in a community with various bodies of water, pools and ponds, it’s an important resource to offer,” director of membership and programs Nina Lombardi said in a telephone conversation with the Times.

Certified ISR instructor Deb Rossetti will teach the course. “This is a comprehensive swim program that teaches a self-rescue program,” said Ms. Rossetti. “It’s the safest, most intelligent way to introduce your children to the water.”

Lessons are scheduled between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm in ten-minute trainings, five days per week, Monday through Friday, for 4-6 weeks. Classes begin May 19, and registration is now open with a deadline of May 1. Lesson times will vary depending on the ten-minute time slot selected, and lesson fees may vary. For more information contact Ms. Rossetti at d.rossetti@infantswim.com or at 401-662-0703.

Sarah Dawson, an MVRHS senior, performs in The Base. — Photo by Laurel Whitaker

Music shook the subterranean walls, and neon lights illuminated the faces of a hundred dancing teenagers gathered in “The Base,” on Friday, March 14, for a middle school dance. The monthly dance is one of a variety of events in the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard’s Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center, better known as Alex’s Place.

Middle school students dancing in the The Base beneath Alex's Place.
Middle school students dancing in the The Base beneath Alex’s Place.

The Base is an inviting performance and dance space. A trippy mural dominates a wall facing a stage outfitted with state-of-the-art lighting and audio equipment donated by Comcast, as well as a complete DJ station at which anyone is welcome to try their hand.

In back, Studio 57 includes a soundproofed room with sound-mixing and recording equipment, as well as an assortment of drums and guitars valued as high as $5,000. The entire facility is free and open to all ages.

Upstairs, three days before the dance, a small crowd of high school students milled around Alex’s Place. A pair of boys played chess next to the air hockey table, while a third looked up magnesium phosphate for his chemistry homework on one of the center’s three brand new iMacs (Alex’s Place also has 15 MacBook laptops and a small library). Nearby, a couple lounging on a lush couch watch anime on a flat-screen TV, while they waited for a friend to bring fries from the Y. Alex’s Place also has its own well-equipped culinary space, “Alex’s Kitchen.”

The scene was familiar to Tony Lombardi, director of teen activities at the Y and manager of Alex’s Place since it was founded on December 10, 2010.

“We get 40-60 kids a day, pre-Dairy Queen; post-DQ, more than 30,” said Mr. Lombardi, laughing. “The high school basketball players come every winter to play xBox before practice. The numbers vary, but there’s never less than a dozen kids during the six hours we’re open.”

In 2013, Alex’s Place had 5,000 visits from Island kids, and since September, more than 900 kids have signed up.

“When you think that the high school only has maybe 700 kids, we’re hitting a huge swath of the population,” said Mr. Lombardi.

Alex’s Place was established with a grant from the Alexandra MM Gagnon Foundation by the parents of Alexandra Gagnon, who died when she was 23. The goal was to provide activities for Island young people. Judging by the comments of many of those who gather there, Alex’s Place has fulfilled the foundation’s mission.

“If Alex’s Place wasn’t here, I’d probably be at home doing nothing, or somewhere in Vineyard Haven,” said Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School freshman Wilson Redfeld, playing chess with a friend on the center’s hand-crafted wooden set. “I like the atmosphere. A lot of my friends are here. I play pool, xBox, chess, air hockey. I do my homework here. All kinds of things.”

High School junior Cheyenne Tilton, who works on the center’s online magazine, “Seven Miles Out,” echoed Wilson. “Alex’s Place gives me somewhere to go, to be around people, because otherwise I’d be stuck in my house doing nothing,” she said. “They’ve made it a safe place for me to want to come; it’s warm and everything’s so nice. I feel at home here.”

Quality costs

From left: Tully McDonough, Lorraine Menezes, and Patrick McDonough do homework on MacBooks provided by Alex's Place.
From left: Tully McDonough, Lorraine Menezes, and Patrick McDonough do homework on MacBooks provided by Alex’s Place.

The facility runs on an annual budget of up to $250,000 and receives generous support from wealthy benefactors such as Comcast. The money shows. In addition to the array of computers and performance equipment, including an old Elvis Presley mic and 12 new digital lights, Alex’s Place has three widescreen TVs, three xBox 360s and a Wii, a high-definition Sony projector, and a 10-foot screen. The center has its own WiFi and a pool table adorns the center of The Base in between events. To top it off, the walls host an assortment of Andy Warhol photography. A recent piece by Banksy, the renowned political graffiti artist, is sandwiched between motivational quotes, including one by Thomas Jefferson that reads: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

The budget pays primarily for heat, electricity, and the salaries for nine staff. The remaining $80,000 to $100,000 pays for programming, which includes bringing performers and teachers to Alex’s Place.

“It’s an expensive, endless proposition that requires consistent community support,” said Mr. Lombardi. “The kids belong to the community, and Alex’s Place belongs to the kids, so by Algebra 2 default, Alex’s Place belongs to the community, and they have to help fund it.

“It’s that expensive because of the caliber and quality of the programming we hire: radio DJs, graphic designers, chefs, personal trainers, all of whom are creating opportunities for kids to experience a new skill.”

Alex’s Place provides opportunities for Islanders of all ages to advance artistic and technological ambitions. Jemima James, an Island musician who performed at Alex’s Place, emphasized the importance of the opportunities the facility offers. “It’s a great opportunity for young musicians, and for old people like me, because there aren’t many alcohol-free venues on the Island that offer a real performance experience.”

Ms. James said she would happily return for another performance. “It was one of the best audiences I’ve ever had,” she said. “Everyone, there were adults there too, was happy and excited to be there. Alex’s Place is terrific, for everyone.”

A blank canvas

Mr. Lombardi believes that Alex’s Place will only continue to succeed if it continues to change. “We try to keep this as much of a blank canvas as we can,” he said. “We strive to create a place that resonates with the kids who come here. Any given day or month The Place is changing.”

Part of this involves engaging with the teenage community. “I have to remain relevant. There’d be nothing worse than having an old bald dude in his 60s who thinks he knows what’s going on in the world of young people. I need to maintain a staff that remains relevant, and pay attention to the culture, not from an analytical point of view but from a humanistic point of view. What are the kids thinking and doing? The Place has to be able to adapt to that.”

Paradoxically, Mr. Lombardi believes this involves bringing more adults into Alex’s Place.

“Given the chance to go out Friday evening,” he said, “I think a teenager would be more inclined to go somewhere that’s not just a special place for kids. For example, we just had a punk rock band here last week. You can actually go out and catch a show in a legitimate venue, one that doesn’t feel like an institutional venue.”

Every day, Mr. Lombardi is planning a new activity, a new vibe. “This Place will never be finished,” he said.