By Rebecca Dravis
02:49PM / Wednesday, October 25, 2017
The Roots teen center opened for business one year ago on Eagle Street.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When the Roots teen center's youth board of directors started to brainstorm a fundraiser for the month of October, the answer was as plain as ... well, as plain as the pumpkin on the porch.
A Halloween event, of course. And thus was born the idea for the inaugural youth-led fundraiser, a "Haunted Harvest Festival," an all-ages event to be held in downtown North Adams on Friday, Oct. 27, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Events will begin at the teen center, located at 43 Eagle St., where people can get tickets for activities, raffles and contests for $1 each and then spread out at other locations around Eagle Street for pumpkin decorating, costume contests, photo booths, face painting, handmade crafts for sale by local 9-year-old Piper Jacobs and more. The activities will cost between one and 10 tickets each.
Executive Director Jessica Sweeney said the youth board members "have the reins" on this event, planning it from start to finish.
"It's kind of really awesome because it's a bunch of young people telling adults what to do," she said.
The main goal is to raise $1,000, and Sweeney is hopeful that will happen, between the tickets sold for the event's activities as well as support from local businesses like Persnickety Toys, Eagle Street Artisans, Bella Roma, Empire Cafe and Village Pizza, all of which are donating 10 percent of their sales from the entire day to Roots.
"What's been really beautiful is that all these businesses are eager to support them," she said.
However, the event is more than just a fundraiser or a Halloween party: The reason that it is being planned in October is in celebration of the one-year anniversary of Roots, which opened Oct. 16, 2016, after years of planning and preparing.
Over the course of the first year, the center, even with its limited hours, has seen 200 visits, including a dozen youths who come regularly.
"I consider that really successful," Sweeney said as she sat in the storefront center, outfitted with comfortable seating, plenty of activities and a kitchen all available for Northern Berkshire youths ages 14 to 22.
Over the last year, Roots has built its regular board of directors and a team of 40 volunteers, as well as a youth board of directors for teens interested not only in helping make decisions for the center but get real-life experience of being on a nonprofit board of directors.
"When they go to step on to board as adults, there will be less of an intimidation factor," Sweeney said. And when they turn 23, they can join the regular board of directors. "That also makes our board really diverse."
All of that diversity has helped guide the success of the first year of the center, which the Haunted Harvest Festival fundraiser aims to showcase in addition to making money.
"People can come in and see the space," said Hunter Schrade, 19, of North Adams, a member of the youth board of directors. "If we can get especially youth in this space, they'll know it already and they will want to come. It less scary."
Schrade looked back on the first year of Roots as offering youths a place to come in and share their stories in a non-judgmental atmosphere, especially during events like the Friday open-mic events.
"That is the greatest thing to see, how their lives are impacted," said Shrade, who wants all Northern Berkshire teens to know what Roots has to offer. "This is a nice place for after school that youths can go."
And as the teen center enters its second year, both boards are starting to look at the next five years in a new strategic plan. That includes more fundraising and seeking out grant opportunities, of course, as their original grant is about to expire. But it also includes looking critically at the programming and how it is serving area youths.
"We like to really think about how we're doing the work we're doing here," said Sweeney, who said that many teen centers don't last very long. "We don't want that to be our story."
As for the physical location, Sweeney said originally they did not know if the Eagle Street location would be permanent. But she said everyone really likes the location, with its convenient downtown location and ample foot traffic. And it has come to feel like home.
"The youth board feels really passionately about staying here," she said. "They want to build their roots here, all puns intended."
To connect with Roots, donate money or volunteer, send an email or visit the website.