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Recreation for Youth in Meridian

July 13, 2008

By Jennifer Jacob, The Meridian Star, Miss.

Jul. 13–For teens in Meridian, there is one complaint that goes around less in waves than in tsunamis: “This town is so boring,” they say as if in chorus. “There’s nothing to do here.”

“I really don’t think there’s enough to do,” said Grant Williams, a Meridian High School student who will turn 17 next month. “In the summer I find myself trying to look for little small jobs because there’s nothing else to do.”

“There’s not really much to do,” said 16 year old Northeast Lauderdale High School student Sam Hall. “I play music and just hang around with my friends, but there’s not really enough to do without spending a lot of money.”

Teenage boredom, especially in the summer months, has been rampant across the United States probably for as long as the United States has been here, but it recently caused some controversy in Meridian when officials at Bonita Lakes Mall announced that they were imposing a new youth policy.

Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose said some young people had been “intimidating” customers and making inappropriate comments to women.

The mall called the local chapter of the NAACP about the problem. NAACP members Randall Jennings and Milton Johnson responded to the call by complaining to the city council about what they said was a lack of inexpensive, easily accessible activities for teenagers in the Meridian area.

Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith responded during his press conference that Jennings had previously procured funds from the city, supposedly to implement a teen mentoring program, but neither implemented the program nor returned the funds.

Jennings said he spent the funds on preparation for the program, but that additional funds needed to fully implement the program fell through.

But Jennings and Johnson aren’t the only people who say they are frustrated with the lack of teen activities in Meridian. Some Lauderdale County teens and their parents complain that there is a definite lack of recreation that teens, who crave independence, and parents, who want their kids to be safe and supervised, can agree on.

“For the ages, like the middle school kids, 12 to 14, there’s nothing for them to do,” said Grant Williams’ mother, Beth. “They’re too young to work, so they sit around the house all day, and they’re bored, and that can cause problems. For the older kids, if they want to get involved in the community there’s plenty to do, but its more like volunteer work than recreation.”

Sam Hall’s mom, Carol, feels the same way.

“There is nothing for teenagers to do around here when school is out,” she said. “They don’t do anything but hang around and get into trouble.”

Of course, not all teens and their parents feel the same way. Mackenzie Carver, a 13 year old student at Lamar School, said she thinks there’s plenty to do.

“I’ve been kind of busy this summer,” she said. “I’ve been swimming a lot, but usually I’ve just been kind of hanging out. I do think there’s enough to do.”

Hannah Hamilton, a 14-year-old Clarkdale student, also felt that the Meridian area offered more than enough for teens to do.

“I’ve been hanging out with my friends and traveling around and going swimming,” she said. “I think there’s plenty to do in the summer.”

“I think as far as physical activity, sports activity … I think Meridian is a great resource in that area,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Andrea Carver. “And I think that with the (Meridian) Museum of Art and the Riley Center, Meridian provides a lot of arts activities through that.”

Certainly, the list of opportunities to play sports in Meridian is long — at least for kids who are able to procure adequate transportation. The greater Meridian area has seven public baseball fields, according to the city of Meridian’s Web site, ten soccer fields, two softball complexes, and four public tennis courts. There are also numerous city-sponsored soccer leagues, as well as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and softball programs at local schools.

For kids who prefer individual sports, there is a disc golf course at ClarkCo State Park in northern Clark County, and the Centerhill Refuge Skatepark in Bailey is scheduled to re-open this September.

In addition, water recreation is available in Lauderdale County thanks to Okatibbee Lake, Bonita Lakes, and the Chunky River. Between the three bodies of water, Meridianites can find venues for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and swimming. Camping and hiking are also available.

Some kids, though, just aren’t into sports — especially not during sweltering Mississippi summers. For them, activities are less than plentiful.

The Meridian Museum of Art, for example, no longer conducts programs aimed at teens, said Interim Director Sylvia Follis, because of a lack of interest in past programs. Instead, she said, teens are invited to volunteer as teacher’s assistants at programs for younger kids. But, Follis said, the museum does hope to begin new teen programs sometime in the coming months.

Local artist Greg Cartmell is offering a free painting demonstration for people of all ages, each Sunday in August. Those interested may want to take private art lessons from him.

Teenage thespians may have a hard time finding something to do over the summer. The Meridian Little Theater is closed in July, and the workshops it offers earlier excludes teens.

The MSU-Riley Center for the Performing Arts, though one of its main goals is arts education, has no summer program for teens. Marketing Director Penny Kemp said that the facility, which has only been in existence for a few years, does hope to provide some teen workshops in the future, but that no concrete plans have been made so far.

Musical types will have an easier time finding ways to keep busy over the summer. Meridian Underground Music on 22nd Avenue holds frequent all-ages, admission-free shows where kids can listen or play for an audience. And the UPBEAT! Community Orchestra, an all ages, open-to-anyone orchestral group, offers strings classes for about $550 a year, with help available to kids with financial need. Private music lessons, for families that can afford it, are also available from various teachers.

Many kids take part in the UPBEAT! program. But it’s not surprising that many more just don’t want to spend their summers going to classes.

Carol Hall has a wish list of sorts for summer teen activities. She thinks many teens are less inclined to join a team or take a class because those things require a commitment. More casual activities, she said, are what our area lacks most.

“It would be great if the city would have like a music day,” she said, “where big groups of kids can just get together and jam on whatever instrument they play. Or sports days, where kids can just show up and join in on games without having to be part of a league.”

One part of Hall’s wish list is likely to be fulfilled soon.

“Meridian could use a skate park,” she said.

The Centerhill Refuge Skatepark, located at the old Centerhill school in Bailey, has been closed for about six months. But, said skate park manager Libby Nutter, its scheduled to re-open this September.

The facility provides ramps and rails for skateboarding, in-line skating, and stunt biking, as well as a stage for band performances.

The non-profit skate park charges $8 admission, but will be free one day a week to kids who attend “Skate Church.”

Nutter, who has four kids ranging in ages from 5-17, said she opened the park because “I just knew that it was just needed for the kids, for the community.”

When the park re-opens, Nutter said, she hopes to find sponsors to help implement an after-school mentoring program and provide internet access for kids who don’t have it at home.

“The main goal is to help kids stay in school,” she said. “I’m looking for something that speaks to the middle and high school students, because that’s when you see their grades really start to slack off.”

Nutter said she’s awed by the camaraderie that exists in the skating community, and that she feels skating is a great way for kids to find a peer support group.

“A lot of kids just don’t do well in team activities,” she added, “but this allows them to excel and develop skills on their own.”

What bothers Nutter most is the lack of community and parental support, which, she said, is what caused the park to close six months ago.

“Adults need to — even though we’re not 100 percent interested in what the kids are interested in — we need to be involved,” Hall said.

PLACES TO GO …

THINGS TO DO

Here are some places to go and things to do in the greater Meridian area:

–Disc Golf: ClarkCo State Park in northern Clark County offers a disc golf course. Discs can be rented or bought for a low fee.

–Canoeing: Stuckey’s Bridge Canoe Rental offers 2-hour, 4-hour, and all-day floats down the Chunky River for $35 per canoe, per day. Renters are welcome to hunt for arrowheads, fish, or camp. Call Brice Smith at (601)527-3595 for more information.

–Skateboarding: The Centerhill Refuge Skate Park has been closed for about 6 months, but is scheduled to re-open in September. Admission is $8 and is free to kids who attend Skate Church.

–The Park on North Hills Street has video games, skee ball, go-karting, and putt-putt. Prices vary.

–The Dixie Bowl bowling alley on North Hills Street

–Skate Odyssey of Meridian on North Hills Street

Water

–Bonita Lakes offers kayaking, fishing, horseback riding trails, walking paths, and barbeque grills, all for free. Bring your own kayak.

–Okatibbee Lake offers camping for a small fee, and free swimming, fishing, and picnicking.

–Dunn’s Falls on the Chunky River offers swimming, camping, and hiking for a small fee.

Music and art

–Meridian Underground Music on 22nd Avenue offers free all-ages music shows for anyone who wants to turn up. It’s also a venue for local bands who write their own songs. Private guitar and drum lessons also are offered at an hourly rate.

–UPBEAT! Community Orchestra is an all-ages orchestra that provides strings classes for people of all skill levels and opportunities to perform in public. There is a $50 registration fee and $550 a year tuition, but some students can get financial assistance through sponsors, and UPBEAT! can provide instruments.

–Art Lessons: Local artist Greg Cartmell will offer a free instructive painting demonstration at his studio on Buntin-Gun Road in Bailey each Sunday this August. He also offers private lessons. For more information, call the Cartmell Gallery at (601) 485-1122.

Clubs and Scouting

–Boy Scouts: The Choctaw Area Council Boy Scouts offer sessions at Camp Binachi for $145, which feature canoeing, shooting, a climbing tower and a ropes course. Registration to join a Boy Scout troop is $10 a year, and many troops go on camping, spelunking, and canoeing trips. Some financial assistance is available for needy kids.

–Girl Scouts: The Girl Scouts of Gulf Pines Council offer sessions at Camp Meridale for an average of $200 a week, or shorter sessions starting at $60. The annual membership fee for Girl Scout members is $10. Individual troops take part in different activities, and some financial help is available for needy students.

–Boys and Girls Club: The Boys and GIrls Club West End branch in Meridian offers a variety of activities aimed specifically at teens.

–4-H: The Lauderdale County 4-H offers activities ranging from nutritional workshops to photography clubs. Most programs have no fee.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Meridian Star, Miss.

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