Aspen Youth Center: Working with the future every day |

Aspen Youth Center: Working with the future every day

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The Aspen Youth Center is not just kids fooling around.A survey in the late 1980s showed Aspen teens were consuming more alcohol than kids in other parts of the state, and the Youth Center was the result of a grassroots effort by parents and concerned citizens.With contributions from the Aspen Community Foundation, Prince Bandar and Boogie’s Foundation among others, organizers opened the doors of a building in Aspen’s downtown core in 1990 and moved to the Aspen Recreation Center in 2003.Since the move, the bulk of annual funding for the Aspen Youth Center comes from the Cirque d’ Aspen event, which generated $343,000 in gross revenues in 2006. A ringside table for 10 at the international circus at Aspen High School costs $5,000, and individual tickets are $150.With expenses of $150,000, Cirque d’ Aspen netted $193,000 in 2006 and is an important component of annual growth in revenues – from $242,977 in 2004 to $365,482 in 2005 – according to Sarah Visnic, executive director of the center.”We’re basically breaking even,” Visnic said, adding the organization is in good financial standing, earning a small net profit the last three years.

The Aspen Youth Center’s $1.7 million in assets is made up of a $420,000 endowment from Martha Hood Roynon – funds Visnic said they do not use, but plan to grow – as well as the center’s real estate. Youth center organizers traded space with the city of Aspen, giving the town the building in the downtown core – now the Rio Grande Conference Room near the Pitkin County jail – for ownership of space at the ARC.”The foundations in the valley and the community as a whole really support us,” Visnic said. The rest of the $365,000 revenues in 2005 (about $125,000) came from contributors such as the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, the Aspen Community Foundation, the Elk’s Club and the Aspen Thrift Shop, as well as individual contributions.There is no alcohol served at fundraisers, and the group supports events that are in line with their mission, Visnic said, like their education series where speakers talk with area students about anything from gossip to the effects of media.”Staffing is a big expense. We have to have adults supervising the kids when they’re in our facility,” Visnic said. But staff spend a lot of one-on-one time with kids and act as mentors, she stressed. “We really do have a big impact on these kids because we see them every day.”Visnic, who has been working with kids in Denver and Aspen for seven years, earns $60,000 per year. Her two full-time staff – a program director who is a veteran teacher and coach, as well as an office/program coordinator who works with kids – split $102,000 in salary. Equipment and materials for ongoing programs are another major expense, Visnic said.Visnic said funding is sometimes difficult to come by because of the misconceptions that the Aspen Youth Center is a city department or attached to the schools.”We’re a nonprofit. … Because we’re located in the ARC, people assume we’re part of the city and that’s just not the case,” Visnic said.An average 58 kids visit the center daily, an increase caused by the 2003 move to the ARC, which is closer to area schools, Visnic said.The Aspen Youth Center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. Staff run programs and clubs – from cooking to crafts to sports – and a Wednesday night dinner at the center is a chance for kids to sit down and talk with an adult about their day, Visnic said.”For some it’s the only night of the week they sit down to dinner,” Visnic said. “Every single kid is at-risk. … People want to pretend that our valley is perfect and there’s no problems.”But all kids face problems – the same in Aspen as in inner cities, Visnic said. “Just because you have money does not mean you don’t have family problems.”And when kids get to the community center they can drop their barriers from school and interact with kids they might not otherwise, Visnic said.”It’s definitely more than a place to hang out,” Visnic said. “Three to 6 p.m. is the riskiest times in a child’s day,” Visnic said, a time when kids are most likely to get into trouble.And that’s where the center’s services are most important, saving taxpayers money in the long run because kids are less likely to get in trouble and more likely to go to college, Visnic said.”We’re proud of what we’re doing and this center is a great resource for these kids,” Visnic said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is

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