Laser tag with Los Alamos Teen Center and YMCA. Courtesy/LAC
Catherine Taylor with Teen Court, Sgt. Chris Ross with LAPD and Brendan Tunning with Los Alamos County Recreation Department at the laser tag event. Courtesy/LAC
Hundreds of “tweens” gathered last Thursday at Ashley Pond to play laser tag, listen to music and throw a few water balloons, thanks to the foresight and collaboration of several community organizations.
This was the first of what will be many congregations of “Hawks Hangouts”, an initiative to keep middle school youth connected and engaged with each other and the community by providing a space just for them. The next event is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at Ashley Pond and is open to incoming 7th graders and current 7th and 8th graders.
Los Alamos County Community Services Department has taken on the charge of providing these activities in connection with Los Alamos County Library, Social Services, Teen Court, YMCA, Teen Center, Youth Activity Center and other community members to begin developing these programs. Originally called the “tweens” or “Middle School Initiative” – the youth surveyed have requested the name “Hawk Hangouts.”
The Hawks Hangouts event highlighted the community’s collaborative involvement: The library staff helped youth make buttons, Community Services provided water balloon fight with local police officers, Teen Center and YMCA provided Laser Tag and soccer and Teen Court provided music and snacks. Turnout was greater than expected, with close to 200 middle school youth in attendance, according to Sobia Sayeda, a senior planner with the LA County Community Development Department and one of the individuals involved in the initial conceptualization of the initiative.
George Marsden, Director, YMCA Los Alamos Teen Center, who oversaw the laser tag activity, shared, “Things were a bit crazy wrangling the inflatable bunkers in the high winds, but the energy of the kids was even higher and kept us going.
Given the incredible response to the event, which came together on fairly short notice, it is obvious to me that our middle school youth are hungry for fun, age-appropriate, organized activities to participate in. We have a long history of providing these types of activities for elementary and high school youth through the YAC and Teen Center, and it is clear that our community must step up its game and start serving ALL youth in Los Alamos.”
After several meetings about risk-taking behavior by our youth, the constant theme was to provide more pro-social positive activities for middle and high school youth. Judge Elizabeth Allen stated, “while for many of us it feels like the pandemic may have paused our lives, our kids have grown up missing many things that used to be common, including socializing positively. It is time to address our youth’s drug use, bullying and unhealthy coping mechanisms. If we want to change negative behaviors, we need to start working together to provide positive experiences.”
Marsden observed, “When we talk about our concerns with youth engaging in negative things like substance use or vandalism, we have to do our part as adults by providing them with healthy, positive alternatives to engage with. We are a community blessed with ample resources and lots of engaged caring adults. Now is the time for us to marshal both of those in service of our middle schoolers! While, ultimately, a brick-and-mortar youth center specifically targeted at middle school youth is needed in our town, collectively, we can get the ball rolling on serving them by coming together for these types of pop-up activities.”
Juanita McNiel with Los Alamos Teen Court said, “These two events will be a kick-off for what will come in the fall for ongoing activities. For those who are interested in participating in the Hawk Hangouts, either as a community member or volunteer, look for future information this summer.”
Again, the next event is scheduled for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at Ashley Pond and will include put/put, lawn games and retro sports games. The activities offered by community partners vary, and organizers are taking specific direction from the youth. According to those in attendance last Thursday, “as long as there is food and music, we are happy.”
In addition, Hawk to Hilltopper will be occurring noon to 3 p.m. Friday, May 27. This is an 8th-grade graduation BBQ / Shaving Cream Fight sponsored by Los Alamos County Recreation and Fire and will be at Urban Park with burgers, hotdogs and a shaving cream fight at 2 p.m. After the fight, LAFD will turn on the water from the fire truck to spray everyone off.
Water balloon fight with LAPD officers. Courtesy/LAC