Teens find fun at haven; Coffeehouse: Severna Park youths said they had no place to go in town, so local churches banded together to give them a common meeting ground.


The Holy Grounds Cafe is not your usual coffeehouse.

Hardly anyone comes for coffee -- alternative rock bands cater to the crowds -- and anyone who has outgrown pimples and bell-bottom jeans is not allowed.

Every Friday, teens from Severna Park and from as far away as Annapolis make their way to the little brown, wood-shingled building on Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard to hear their favorite local bands and meet their friends.

They say it's a place where they can relax.

"We're all kind of odd in different ways," said Jason Gusman of Annapolis. "You can't really express that in school because you'd get in trouble, so you come to Woods."

The coffeehouse is in a 90-year-old building with arched stained-glass windows between Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Community Center at Woods. It is a project of Woods Memorial Presbyterian, St. John's Roman Catholic, St. Martin's Episcopal and Severna Park United Methodist churches in Severna Park.

The building used to be St. John's Worship Center. Most recently it was known as the building adjacent to the Severna Park YMCA. When the YMCA closed because of financial troubles in 1995, Woods bought both buildings for $525,000 and renovated them.

The former Y became a community center where residents swim and take aerobics and martial arts classes. Old St. John's became a community multipurpose room until January 1998, when it became Holy Grounds.

"We knew we had a good, centrally located facility," said the Rev. David Husco, assistant pastor at the 2,000-member Woods church. "We started asking questions about what [the teens] wanted. They said we want a place to hang out because we either have to go to Annapolis or Baltimore and we have to hang out with adults."

During the week, the community center runs an after-school program for middle school students in the building. In the evenings, community groups use it for meetings and residents throw birthday parties or reunions there on some weekends.

Friday nights, though, it's the teen hangout.

"It's just one of the places you can be open," said Caroline Smith, 14. "You don't see the wall of the person, you see the real person."

A typical Friday night can draw skaters, football players, punk rockers, artists and musicians. Some speckle their faces with glitter, and some wear spectacles and braces. Others display their individuality through pierced eyebrows.

Some wear tight belly shirts and bell-bottom jeans, purple hair and black leather jackets, scruffy fleece jackets and sneakers, boots and flannel. Sometimes they stay inside, but sometimes they party outdoors.

On a recent Friday, about a dozen teens circled in the grass around Kristian Asbjornsen in 30-degree weather as he played his acoustic guitar and sang his favorite Dennis Leary comedy tunes.

Inside, the lead singer for Roslyn, a local band, screamed lyrics against the din of drums and electric guitars.

Several teens piled onto the trunk of an old car parked at the curb to talk, and another cluster ran off to a nearby 7-Eleven for snacks. After a while more arrived, careening down the hill on skateboards and bicycles. They stayed across the street, hopping curbs to polish their skills.

The coffee house gives the teens "something to do instead of getting into trouble," said Matt Shenton, 15, who spent a recent evening on the balcony of the St. John's building cuddling with his 15-year-old girlfriend Jackie Bodley. "It's just a very chill atmosphere. I look forward to showing up because all my friends are here."

Inside the building, what once was a pulpit has become a stage. Teens lounge on sofas donated to the coffee house, shoot pool or play pingpong on pine floors that once held pews.

A short balcony once used to separate blacks from whites during church services now holds booth-style seats where teens sit to chat, cuddle and get a bird's-eye view of the bands.

"Usually, it's like a good way to get away from people," said Liz Young, 13.

The cafe was set up strictly for high school students, although middle schoolers have been known to get in and adults are sometimes allowed if they're with a band.

Students pay $3 to get in, and bands are paid $50 for one-hour performances. Those fees don't come near covering the cost of coordinating chaperones, paying off-duty police officers, and heating and lighting the building for other activities.

The teens seem to appreciate it.

"The perception of teen-agers being out there is we're e delinquent, we're the ones who do drugs, we're always doing something wrong," said Taylor Simpson, 16. "But we stay over here and do what Dave [Rev. Husco] tells us. It's a nice environment, even for middle schoolers."

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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