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Aspen Youth Center

John Colson

At the northern end of the Aspen Recreation Center, perched above the Lewis Ice Rink to the west and the James E. Moore Pool to the east, is the Aspen Youth Center.This nonprofit organization caters to the area’s youngsters aged 8 to 18, five days a week, and it often is full of voices, movement and energy.Though housed in the ARC, the Youth Center is a separate entity, and that has presented some confusion and some problems for its advocates.”It’s frustrating. Everyone thinks that because we’re in the ARC, we’re part of the recreation department,” said AYC Executive Director Sarah Blangsted. The organization is only minimally funded by local governments (about 2 percent of its budget comes from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County) and it depends heavily on contributions from the public, grants and other sources.The AYC held its first major fund-raiser late last year, the Cirque d’Aspen acrobatics display that took place over the Christmas holiday season, and raised $175,000 for the center.Some of the proceeds went toward the $500,000 annual budget, and some was added to a $400,000 gift the AYC got from the late Martha Hood Roynon of Chicago.According to AYC board president Robin Danell, the gift is the basis for what the AYC wants ultimately to be a $10 million endowment to support the organization.The AYC serves an increasing number of local youths with an ever-expanding roster of programs, said Blangsted, with a full-time staff of three (Blangsted, program director Brian Hart and office and program coordinator Amy Filiss] and a few part-timers as needed.The AYC program guide (in English or Spanish) shows a wide range of activities, from table games to TV-commercial acting classes, and a broad array in between.A key element of the AYC’s current success, Blangsted said, is the creation of clubs for kids in different age groups, elementary, middle and the broad-based “8 to 18.” In the clubs, kids engage in arts and crafts, study science or engineering or learn how to cook, watch movies, play games and take part in games tournaments.Last Tuesday night, the Middle School Activities Board decided that since there was to be no school on Wednesday because of teacher training, they should show a roster of scary movies.In the Dance Progressions classes, kids from 5 to 18 learn everything from tap to ballet to hip-hop. And as soon as they vacate the multipurpose room, boys move in to pummel each other in dodge ball or shoot hoops.Blangsted said the center usually has anywhere from 40 to 80 kids over the course of a day; they usually pay $2 per day unless they’re engaged in a particular activity that costs a little more.”We’re on a really good high right now,” said Danell. It may take awhile to reach the endowment goal but, she added, “I expect the Aspen Youth Center to be right here in 20 years,” and still going strong.


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