The Alive Center has been open 5 ½ years now and we hear all kinds of wonderful things from the parents and guardians of the teens we support. From the teens that come to drop-in day in and day out, we hear one consistent theme. They all say that the Alive Center staff are “sooooo nice”. It got me thinking, why are we so nice? Why do all of the kids say this and what does it say about the world outside of the Alive Center? Maybe it is not always such a nice place.

One of our pillars at Alive is “Belonging”. We are a place for ALL teens to belong and they feel this. They are welcomed and treated the same regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, religion, abilities, etc.  The teens feel this. They know that we talk the talk and mean it and thus they gravitate back to us. I was a big fan of the TV show cheers. Norm would walk into the bar and the entire bar would look at him and loudly greet him with a big “Norm”. Many teens often feel invisible in the world. They live in these state of none of them feeling like they truly belong. They struggle to find a place to fit in- where they truly feel as if they belong.  The Alive Center makes sure that they are seen and we aim to be forever inclusive in all that we do.

Another of our pillars is “Discovery”. The name Alive comes from my favorite quote by Howard Thurman. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive then go and do it. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive.” At Alive teens can try their hand at art, cooking, music, writing, robotics, computer science, poetry and so much more. There are no grades and no fear of failure as we make trying new things fun, just as it should be. We laugh at failure and try it again! We want our teens to find what makes them come alive. They find this environment not only fun but supportive. What a great way to learn!

Leadership” is our third pillar. At Alive we are Teen-Led and Teen-Driven. We literally let our teens create and lead programs all by themselves. They know that we are there if they need help which boosts their confidence. We do not treat them like kids but instead like people. They love this and comment on it all of the time. We are being nice but letting them take the lead. We provide guidance and support, but let them take the lead.

And last but not least, our fourth pillar is “Resiliency”. In a generation of helicopter parenting, teens need more independence and they need to understand and respond to what is expected of them. At Alive they clean up after themselves, they lead, and they are held accountable. We also teach them important life skills such as cooking, mindfulness, time management and more. Empowering teens to be more resilient is being nice to them and deep down they know it.

So why do our teens say that “the Alive Center staff is soooo nice”? I say that it is because we accept them JUST AS THEY ARE with no expectations of who we think they should be. We meet them where they are at. We create a nonjudgmental space for them to explore who they are. We are open. We are kind. We have meaningful conversations, we hold them accountable and we laugh and play… keeping life light. They are still children after all.

And this is why we plan to build more Alive Centers, to give such a place to more teens!