Stafford Youth Center celebrates 16 years

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Wed., Feb. 6, 2013
(L-r) Jonathan, Briana, Jesse and John enjoy the evening at the 16th Annual Youth Center birthday bash. Photos by Kitty LeShay.
(L-r) Jonathan, Briana, Jesse and John enjoy the evening at the 16th Annual Youth Center birthday bash. Photos by Kitty LeShay.

It was a great birthday bash with all the ingredients of a magical evening: pulsing music, good company, delicious food and enthusiastic participants. Stafford Youth Center Director Laura Panciera and her team of volunteers organized the Feb. 1 celebration which honored the center’s 16 years.

Panciera spends days in preparation for this annual event, doing a lot of baking herself. Her signature dish is pepperoni bread, which is served hot with lots of mozzarella cheese dripping onto plates and chins. “The Youth Center kids keep me going. I love the kids and look forward to each Friday night,” Panciera said. The celebration is an expansion of what happens regularly on Friday evenings at the Stafford Community Center.

“KISS 95.7 sends their DJs every year and don’t charge a dime, and the UConn students come every Friday night. They are mentors to our kids in the Community Outreach Program,” Panciera explained.

Julie McGarry is one UConn volunteer who has been coming to Stafford for four years. “We love it here. Many students have volunteered multiple semesters. We love the kids, and Laura. It is a great program to be part of, and we see more kids coming all the time,” she said.

Panciera keeps bringing her old friends back, some from 16 years ago, as volunteers. Sarah Zimmerman was a volunteer helping out. “I’ve known Laura since I was in sixth grade. She married my husband and me on Dec. 29. When I saw her on the Justice of the Peace list, I picked her. She is my grandma’s best friend,” Zimmerman said.

Timothy Shannon was another graduate from Youth Center participant to volunteer. “The town I used to live in didn’t have a place for kids to go. Stafford has a great Youth Center. Everyone is really nice to each other. I think Laura makes it a special place. She is welcoming, warm and kids trust her,” he said.

Kenny Wilson, who comes to the Center regularly, summed up the feelings of many. “I like the food and music. The UConn volunteers are fun. They play pool, dance and give us advice,” he said.

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