Stafford Youth Center party celebrates its 14th birthday

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Fri., Feb. 4, 2011
UConn students volunteer at the Stafford Youth Center every Friday night. Photos by Kitty LeShay.
UConn students volunteer at the Stafford Youth Center every Friday night. Photos by Kitty LeShay.

STAFFORD - The birthday party had all the ingredients of a fun time: delicious food, good company and music by KISS 95.7. All Stafford youths were invited to attend the Jan. 28 event.
Laura Panciera, director of the Senior and Youth Center – along with her many volunteers – provided food, music and a large dose of friendship.
“I am the luckiest person in Stafford. I love this job,” Panciera said, as many loaves of her pepperoni bread baked in the oven. “These kids are like my own children. I love them.”
For the center’s 14th anniversary, Panciera brought together a diverse group of people, as she does each Friday evening at the center. She taps into the Senior Center and gets help from seniors with supervision and baking. UConn volunteers come every Friday to supervise and mentor kids and just engage with them in activities. “This has been the seventh year KISS has been here providing entertainment. They do this as a benefit and distribute T-shirts, movie tickets and banners,” Panciera said.
While the birthday party was a special event, every Friday, Panciera makes sure the kids are well-fed. “We alternate our Friday night menus between pizza, Subway and hot dogs and hamburgers. Bob Dimmock, our chef, grills in the freezing cold sometimes,” she said.
The mission of the Youth Center is to provide a safe, supervised and substance-free environment for youths where they can socialize in an informal way. “I like to come and play pool,” Justice said.
“It’s fun to hang out with friends and have a good time,” Jonathan added.
The UConn students are popular with the Stafford teens. Hannah Cooke, a junior at UConn, is the coordinator of the program. “This is a unique program to this town. I love it and wish more towns had something similar,” she said. Cooke would like to be a high school teacher, and many of the other volunteers would like careers involving young people, as well. “I grew up in a small town like this, and when kids have nothing to do, they get into trouble. Most of the UConn students are here not because they want to build a résumé, but because they genuinely want to help teens,” she added.

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