BELEN — A new resource for Valencia County youth and families has opened in the city of Belen, providing services for both adults and teens.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Rocket Teen Center, on Friday, Sept. 30, community members, representatives from support organizations and local businesses gathered to celebrate the coming opening of the center.

While the facility is ready to provide adult services, Holly Chavez, board chairwoman for the H2 Academic Solutions Scholarship Fund, said the non-profit needs to secure a specific business license for the teen center from the city.

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

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Holly Chavez, board chairwoman for the H2 Academic Solutions Scholarship Fund, right, and Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez, center, cut the ribbon during a recent ceremony at the Rocket Teen Center.

The teen center will serve all the students from Valencia County and northern Socorro County, and is housed at 129 S. Third St. in Belen, which is owned by Belen Consolidated Schools.

It will eventually be open 2:30-7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The center, which will house a commercial kitchen, classrooms, workout space, hang-out space, a library and clothing and shoe closet, will serve as a bus stop for the district.

There will be one paid staff member and multiple volunteers running the center.

Youth will have access to numerous resources, groups and classes, including education and mentoring programs, behavioral health programs and services, physical health and wellness programs, art programs, the community kitchen and community activities.

“The reason we wanted to open a teen center is to have a safe place youth can go after school in hopes of reducing the number of youth involved in crime, decrease trauma and increase access to services,” said Chavez. “In addition, we hope the youth will gain a greater sense of community and become better connected to the greater community.”

The center’s over arching goals and objectives are to decrease the rate of system-involved youth in the community, build a stronger community, encourage youth leadership and build LGBTQIA+ representation and visibility.

It is within walking distance of the Belen Rail Runner Express station and is accessible by the Rio Metro bus system.

The center will also be a place for adults and families to connect with resources when youth aren’t at the property, Chavez said. The adult resource center is available from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“We are meeting with adults in the community who need help filling out paperwork for housing, getting IDs, making appointments, getting cell phones,” she said. “We do an assessment to identify their risk area and help connect them with services.

“We try to keep them from falling through the cracks; people who are at the edge of catastrophe. We help a lot of people experiencing homelessness and from all walks of life.”

Chavez said the adults don’t have to be in crisis to use the resource center. Recently, a disabled man living with family members needed help moving, for instance.

“We were able to connect him to a resource for that,” she said. “It can be just as simple as that.”

Adults receiving services and youth absolutely won’t be on the property at the same time, Chavez emphasized.

“When the youth programming is happening, only people with background checks and the youth will be allowed on the property,” she said. “We have set up protocols from the beginning to get people (adults) used to the idea that this is not a place they can hang out past a certain time. We will keep those populations separate.”

While the teen center can appear on the surface to be all fun and shiny, Chavez said there is a serious undertone to the services it will deliver to youth.

“Through our community partners and volunteers, we will have adults here, spending a couple hours with the kids and being mentors,” she said. “If we find kids at risk, we need to address those needs before they get to a crisis level. All of our staff have training on suicide prevention and the questions to ask. We have upcoming trainings on untreated mental illness.

“With youth, we have a lot of resources available. Kids talk when they are in crisis and we need to match them with someone so they can get help quickly.”

Chavez said many local organizations are required to have contact with community youth in order to maintain funding, and the teen center will provide a physical location for that.

“It can be hard to be in contact with youth, so to have a place where kids come and interact will be very beneficial,” she said. “We can provide a location for organizations and programs to hold classes, for instance. This space really provides a grass roots outreach in the community directly to kids.

“The most effective way to help is to reach kids before they get in trouble. We have so many great, community-based groups that will provide a lot of support for all different purposes.”

The 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.

For more information, to become a partner, make a donation to the center or volunteer for the teen programming, contact Holly Chavez at 505-453-3621 or by email, [email protected], or text Noelle Chavez at 505-388-3547.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.