After six months without a home, the Benicia Teen Center is ready to move into an even bigger space at Church Street next month.
Providing a center for Benicia teens to be given support through counseling, mentoring and social interaction and express themselves by playing music and creating art has been a primary goal for the Kyle Hyland Foundation for Teen Support, named for a 16-year-old Benicia High School student who died by suicide in 2014. Throughout most of 2015, the foundation had searched for a space in Benicia big enough to accommodate all of the center’s needs. Success finally came that December when the staff of Gateway Church on Military West agreed to lend space in an unused building behind the main facility. A grand opening was held in January 2016.
For the next year and a half, the Benicia Teen Center became a place where teens could hang out, do homework, play foosball or table tennis, create art, play video games or receive help from peers or counselors. There were also movie screenings and theme nights, such as Karaoke Night or Art Night. However, the center lost its space in June and had to find a new one. In the meantime, Benicia High teacher and Friday Night Live club adviser Dean Gor allowed the center to meet in his classroom for activities on Fridays, but there was no permanent space for the center.
“There were a lot of times when we had hope and then had those hopes dashed,” Barbara Gervase, foundation president and Hyland’s mother, said.
During this time, the foundation had been talking to Lighthouse Covenant Church, which is in the process of building a new fellowship hall.
“We had hoped to obtain space there, but the amount of space that we needed wasn’t going to work with their needs because we needed a dedicated space,” Gervase said.
Earlier this month, Lighthouse staff informed the foundation about a vacant four bedroom/two bathroom house they had been renting and suggested it as a possible location. Although the center has no religious affiliation, Gervase said they graciously accepted the offer.
“It sounded like a win-win both for them and for us,” she said. “They need to continue to raise money for their new building and for their church. The rent that we’ll pay here will help with that.”
Additionally, Gervase said the location is perfect for the center. While the previous location was within walking distance from Benicia High, the new space is almost across the street. It is even on Benicia Middle School’s bus route.
One aspect Gervase said the previous location lacked was multiple spaces for different activities. One bedroom will be used as a yoga space and may be used for counseling in the future, the living room is set up with a couch and TV for movie watching as well as video and board games, another bedroom will be a homework space, another will be used for music, the backyard has a basketball hoop and garden, the garage will be used for larger games like table tennis and billiards and the kitchen will serve as a snack bar and will be the place to host cooking and cake decorating lessons. The center is also accessible to those with different abilities.
Gervase said the center has received tremendous support from the community, including through an $18,500 grant from the Human Services Board and $15,000 raised through the annual Golf Tournament hosted in October, both of which partially fund the space. Monetary and other physical donations are currently being accepted. Items on the center wishlist include a kitchen table and chairs, outdoor furniture, a vacuum cleaner, cookware, kitchen towels, a cutting board, folding chairs, bean bags, Xbox 360 games, outdoor games such as cornhole or ladder ball, flat-screen TVs and more.
One of the center’s slogans is “Your home away from home,” which Gervase said is meant to reflect its status as a place for teens to come to and escape from home pressures while being able to connect with peers and adults.
“A lot of parents in Benicia both work,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the Teen Center, these kids would be going home to an empty house.”
Since Hyland was an avid piano player, one of the center’s goals is to promote the idea of teens expressing themselves creatively through art and music.
“Kids grow up with so many pressures to get good grades so they can go off into college,” she said. “While that’s important, there’s more to life than just that. We really like the fact that we have the art and we have the music here, so those are ways they can really express themselves.”
Gervase said the foundation is meant to serve as a legacy for Hyland.
“I think he’d be very, very pleased with what we’ve done here,” she said. “He will always be remembered because of it.”
“This is all because of him,” foundation board member Lynn Hoyle said. “So many kids are gonna benefit from this place. We want them to have fun, but we also want them to feel connected to one another and to an adult.”
The center is located at 1135 Church St. An open house for teens will be hosted from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8 and the grand reopening celebration will be held from 3 to 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12 for teens and adults. The center will be open for teens ages 13 to 19 who either live in Benicia or attend its schools from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. It will be open earlier upon dismissal on CPT and minimum days, and the program may be extended into summer. Monetary donations can be mailed to KHF, P.O Box 1601, Benicia, CA 94510 or through a PayPal link on KyleHyland.com, where further information on the center and foundation can be found.