Avenue A provides a space for youth on Friday nights

  • Donovan Sweeney and Abby Hunt, both 17, make music at Avenue A Teen + Community Center in Antrim Sept. 23. —STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

  • R.J. Woodin, 17, at Avenue A Teen + Community Center Sept. 23. scott merrill—STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/26/2022 3:23:35 PM
Modified: 9/26/2022 3:22:47 PM

Second in a series looking at the state of mental health and well-being for children and teens in the Monadnock Region.

For teens in the Monadnock region and beyond, the Avenue A Teen + Community Center in Antrim comes to life on Friday nights. 

Avenue A, which serves more than 300 youths annually age 11 to 19, is a program of the Grapevine Family and Community Resource Center. 

Friday evening open hours begin at 6:30 p.m. It’s a time for teens to play pool, make music in the center’s music room, sing karaoke or just hang out and talk. On Sept. 23, the center’s playful air was warming up as youths streamed in and were greeted by Jacqueline Roland, Avenue A’s community center coordinator. There were Oreo cookies and an assortment of drinks at the bar where a small group congregated. Some youths began a game of pool, while others headed straight to the music room.

One of those teens was ConVal junior Donovan Sweeney, 17, from Hancock, who played a range of Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on his bass guitar. Sweeney, who refers to himself as a hired-gun bassist in one of the bands he plays in, characterized himself as metalhead. He said the musical side of his family is his father's side. 

“Music is the lifeblood of my family," he says. “If I hadn't picked an instrument by the time I was 15 they would have been like ‘Kid, what are you doing?’”

People come to the center and do their own things, Donovan explained between playing songs.

“It's a mix of doing things by yourself and doing things together,” he said. “For most part it’s mix-and-match.”  

One of the young women in the music room, Abby Hunt, said she came to the center from New Hampton because of a friend in the area. She said she took up guitar three months ago, and Friday evening, she played a song using a guitar her friend “graciously” gave her and sang “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. The song was a favorite of her mother, who Hunt said died last January.

By 7:30, the center was fully alive and 17-year-old R.J. Woodin (also referred to as “The Mayor of Avenue A” he and Roland said) was sitting alone near two teens singing karaoke. Woodin, who moved to Antrim from Peterborough earlier in his life, says he was diagnosed with autism at age 2 or 3, and began being picked on in school around the age of 4. After this, he said, “the bullying just built.”

“Once I got to elementary school the bullying really kicked off,” he said, adding that in middle school he experienced a break from the taunting but that it resumed in high school. “You learn to get up, brush yourself off and move on.”

Now Woodin , who practices taekwondo, said he tries to help others who struggle with their self-confidence. He recalled a story when he was training at his former dojo in Jaffrey when he met a girl with special needs who wanted to do martial arts. After watching R.J. compete at a tournament, the girl’s mother showed up at the dojo and pulled him aside.

“The girl’s mother said, ‘You inspired my daughter to do taekwondo,’” Woodin said. “And when she first joined the class, I trained her and she loved every minute of it. That memory always sticks with me.” 

One of the reasons Roland says the teen center is important is because it provides a space for youths who are becoming more independent to practice what it’s like to be an adult.

“Part of that is for them to make their own communities and to find their own places in those communities,” she said. “I think Avenue A is a safe space for them to begin that process.”

The idea for Avenue A was born in November of 2006 when the Grapevine’s Brown Bag Coalition, consisting of representatives from schools, library, police departments, churches, recreation departments and other civic groups, along with The Grapevine, determined the need for a teen center and identified 42 Main St. in Antrim as an available and appropriate site.

By January of 2007, a committee of teens and parents was formed, and 30 teens began meeting weekly with Grapevine Executive Director Kristen Vance and parents to develop their vision for the teen center and implement their first fundraiser, a 50/50 raffle. The Community Steering Group was also formed at this time. Nine months later, in October 2007, Avenue A celebrated its grand opening. 

The Teen Center is named “Avenue A” after a naming contest. The name comes from the musical “Rent,” as in the musical, Avenue A was a place where people from all walks of life could come together.

“Kids get to meet positive adults in the community, and it’s a place where they can explore their interests through our programs,” Roland said, explaining the many programs, from woodworking and  carpentry to community theater projects, yoga and mountain biking. “They have a chance to explore new interests and discover how they can contribute. The Friday night open sessions are a microcosm of that. You see some singing, playing pool, sharing instrument skills, playing cards together. It’s a gift for a young person to know their community sees them and invests in them in the way we do at Avenue A.”

Avenue A’s portion of The Grapevine budget is about $105,000 as of fiscal 2022, and it receives grant funding from a mix of sources, including the Gilbert Verney Foundation, the Agnes Lindsay Trust, the Robin Colson Foundation and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. In past years, Avenue A has received funding from 100+ Women Who Care Monadnock, the Madelaine Von Weber Trust, the Cogswell Benevolent Trust and Monadnock Men on a Mission. NH Gives, a statewide day of giving in June, is The Grapevine’s biggest Avenue A fundraiser.

The Grapevine’s annual auction in November, annual appeal and spring walk fundraisers also support Avenue A. Avenue A also receives funding from Antrim, Bennington, Francestown and Hancock. The Bantam Grill in Peterborough is donating proceeds from its annual Beastmaster Fundraiser to Avenue A this year, as it has done for the last two years. Avenue A is also supported by the Antrim-Bennington Lions Club, Hancock Woman’s Club and Grand Monadnock Rotary.

“I really love our teens, our volunteers and the community in general and the way Avenue A intersects all of those things,” Roland said. “The magic of Avenue A is that everyone wants to be there. And that carries such a special energy. It really makes for a great environment.”

Teens come to Avenue A from more than 15 towns in the region, including Antrim, Bennington, Francestown, Hancock, Peterborough, Temple, Greenfield,  New Ipswich, Dublin, and Jaffrey. These teens come from six different public schools, as well as private schools. The center also serves homeschool youth.


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