Columbia Association Youth and Teen Center at the Barn

Three young boys enjoy snacks and Wii at the renaming reception at the Columbia Youth Teen Center at the Barn on Monday. (Luke Lavoie)

For Rene Buckmon, the Columbia Association's manager of youth and teen programs, renaming the Columbia Teen Center  the Youth and Teen Center at the Barn is more than just a cosmetic change.

Buckmon said the name change, the second since the center opened in the early 1980s, signals an opportunity for growth for the community center, which is located in the Oakland Mills Village Center.

"We wanted to change the perception that we only have services for teens," Buckmon said at the renaming open house on Monday.

Buckmon said, although it's been called the Teen Center, the center welcomes children ages nine to 18, and even offers special programming geared toward younger children.


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"A lot of younger kids come here, but the name makes it sound like we only serve teenagers," Buckmon said. 

While Buckmon said much of the programming will remain the same, she hopes the re-branding will attract a younger audience, allowing the center to expand its services.

Currently, the center offers a daily "drop-in" after-school program, in addition to other special programs.

The after-school program, which runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, offers youth both recreation time and homework help, and is free to anyone who wants to drop by.

Although the after-school program is the center's most popular program, it also offers specialty services that include: the Teen Outreach Committee, a 4H club, the For Girls only club, the boys mentoring program, and a partnership with the Columbia Art Center called "Art Attack."

The center also sponsors a special summer excursion program that takes participants on field trips to destinations like New York City and amusement parks like Six Flags and Kings Dominion.

Teen Outreach Committee member Isaac Henderson, 17, of Columbia, said he's been visiting the center since he was 12-years-old.

"I used to live down the road," Henderson said. "One day I came down, got a tour and I really liked it. I've been coming here ever since."

For Henderson, the best part about coming to the center is the family atmosphere created by the people.

"You get a different variety of people here," Henderson said. "You have younger people, older people. I can always come to the center if I need advice or help."

Henderson said, when he was younger, he used to seek advice from the older kids. Now that Henderson is an elder statesman, he takes pride in mentoring some of the younger kids as they go through adolescent troubles.

"I try to give them a way to look at situations in a more positive light, so they don't make the same mistakes I did," Henderson said.

Columbia mother Dawn Connolly said her 14-year-old daughter Dominique has met some of her closest friends at the center.

"They interact with people here, it's somewhere to go besides being on the computer," Connolly said smiling. "The kids love it."

Dominique added: "There's always people here and a lot of things to do. You are never bored."

Dawn Connolly said, for her, the true strength of the program lies in the hard-working and caring staff members.

"The staff is really excellent. They get to know the kids and really look out for them," Connolly said. "You can tell they really care."