Photo courtesy of Rosemary Silva

Pictured, from left, are Lucas Dimas, Teen Center staff; H2ASSF Board Treasurer Marcelle Trujillo; Belen Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez, H2ASSF Board Chairwoman Holly Chavez and H2ASSF board members Noelle Chavez and Jenna Rael.

BELÉN — The vision of having a teen center in Valencia County is one step closer to fruition.

The Rocket Teen Center, which will serve all the students from Valencia County and northern Socorro County, will operate from 129 S. Third St. in Belen. Envisioned for more than two years, potential partnerships with both the city of Belén and the Belén Consolidated Schools explored multiple locations.

Ultimately, Belén Consolidated Schools had a property available that met the center’s needs. The tentative agreement, developed more than a year ago, required both the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Board of Finance’s endorsements. With those hurdles cleared, the Belen Schools and Rocket Teen Center signed the lease on May 16.

The Rocket Teen Center is a subsidiary 501c3 non-profit of the H2 Academic Solutions Scholarship Fund.

“Now the real work begins as we work to provide services to teens as soon as August of this year,” said Holly Chavez, H2 Academic Solutions Scholarship Fund board chairwoman.

The Teen Center has more than 30 community partners, including All Faiths Counseling Center, Juvenile Probation, Valencia Shelter Services, OSAP, Department of Health, Work Force Connections, YDI Top, Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, United Way of Central New Mexico and many more.

“Our youth are a precious resource, investment in them is absolutely necessary and we have plenty of need in our community,” Chavez said. “The fact that we have so many partners is a testament recognizing that need and we hope to be a focal point in Valencia County for youth services.”

Critical to the lease approval was the in-kind support and services that the Rocket Teen Center will provide to the youth.

“(I’m) excited for the opportunity to work with Rocket Teen Center and believe this is a win-win for both parties,” said Belen Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez. “The ultimate beneficiary of this new teen center is our students.”

Rocket Teen Center anticipates key transfer on July 1, and will utilize that time to finalize the agreements with community partners and begin scheduling and advertising programming.

Last month on a unanimous vote, the Belén Consolidated Schools Board of Education approved a lease and memorandum of understanding with H2 Academic Solution Scholarship Fund to house the center at the district’s old transportation building.

At the May 10 board meeting, President Jim Danner said board member Larry Lindberg, who was unable to attend the meeting, had concerns and wanted clarification about who would be responsible for maintenance.

Sanchez said H2 would be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and the district would handle long-term maintenance.

Board secretary Max Cordova asked what kind of security the center would have. Sanchez said the program wasn’t going to run an “open building” in regards to physical access.

“Somebody has to let you in,” Sanchez told the board. “Not anyone off the street can walk in.”

H2 is required to provide liability insurance for the Rocket Teen Center, and collect copies of liability insurance from any partnering programs that use the space.

The lease goes to the end of May 2026, and the annual lease payment of $42,720 will be paid to the district through in-kind services by H2.

The nonprofit will provide free, education services to all youth ages 10 to 17 years old, and 18 year olds who are enrolled in school in Valencia and Socorro counties, as well as students who are residents of the Pueblo of Isleta, which equal the $3,560 monthly rent payment.

The in-kind services will be monitored monthly, to make sure there is no shortfall or overage of payments.

For more information, to become a partner or to make a donation, contact Holly Chavez at 505-453-3621 or text Noelle Chavez at 505-388-3547.

The building has been occupied by the Belén Area Food Pantry for about four years.

Joe Portio, the president of the BAFP, said they provide food to 1,200 people a month.

“We’ve been evicted and we have to be out by the end of June.” Portio said. “We’re working with the city of Belén … and trying to negotiate to go into the old fire (station). There’s no guarantee, so right now we’re probably going to be closed through the month of July and middle of August.”

Portio said the BAFP will have one more distribution on Thursday, June 23, and volunteers will give out everything they possibly can this and send the rest back to Roadrunner Food Bank.”

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The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.