For five years, Rockville Centre Youth Council chair Beth Hammerman has been talking about creating a space where local teens could socialize safely and substance-free. That vision will soon become a reality.
The not-for-profit youth group was formed in 2009 in reaction to teens in the community getting in trouble. Hammerman said there were complaints about young people consuming alcohol on pedestrian bridges stretching across Peninsula Boulevard and roaming the streets, leaving empty beer cans on residents’ lawns and destroying private property. That year, two teens also died from deaths related to alcohol, she added.
The consensus was, she said, “for teens, there’s nothing to do in town.”
It was an issue that Hammerman discussed with her former neighbors and close friends, John and Anita LaSpina, who own the bowling alley on Maple Avenue, Rockville Centre Lanes. Those conversations led to a lightbulb moment.
“We want more youth under our roof, the youth council has a need and we have the space,” said John LaSpina, referring to the vacant space inside the alley, where the snack bar used to be located.
La Spina has transformed the room into a lounge with flat-screen TVs and a counter that will house an espresso machine. There’s also a bathroom, power outlets for devices such as laptops and a separate entrance from Morris Avenue. When it’s complete, he envisions it being a place where teens can hang out after school and on weekends, and where the youth council can host its meetings and events. The young council is planning a ribbon-cutting for April 10.
“It’s really impressive,” said Alexandra Kosakoff, 16, co-president of the council and sophomore at South Side High School, while looking at the nearly completed lounge.
In addition to the social events the council holds, Kosakoff and her fellow officers organize community service projects and programs to raise awareness about the dangers of substance abuse. In 2012 the group brought together teens and adults to create more than 40 mannequins depicting famous stars from Judy Garland and Elvis Presley to Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger who have died from drugs or alcohol. They were displayed around town.
As part of this new project, the LaSpinas have agreed to let teens use the lounge without purchasing anything. He said the alley staff knows how to supervise teens without smothering them.
“Bowling centers have always been the traditional latchkey place,” said LaSpina, whose family has owned alleys for more than 50 years. “We’ve watched some wonderful people grow up under our roof who have turned into great citizens.”