As a direct result of a team effort between multiple community organizations, the staff at Seasons Cafe will once again open their doors on Thursday, Feb. 15, to more than 70 teens taking part in Teen Night, a new weekly happening. The event is sponsored in part by Partnership for Community Action, Family and Youth Initiatives, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chaffee County.

“The need for safe and inclusive events for teens is a glaring issue in our growing community. By the end of the first Teen Night (Feb. 1), it was clear that this sort of space is needed and welcomed by area youth,” noted Jimmy Sellars with PfCA.

The weekly event is billed as being not only safe, but also drug-free, bullying-free and inclusive. Stage performances by local youth are a regular occurrence at the event and are coordinated by the teens themselves. Sellars said they intend to invite a variety of acts each week, including musicians, spoken-word performers, slam poetry readers, comedians, actors and open-mic entertainers. All performers are compensated weekly via the “Teen Night Tab.”

“It is really important that they are rewarded for working as hard as they do to get on stage and share themselves with their peers,” Sellars observed, explaining that teens can also win prizes in a weekly drawing.

Sellars said PfCA, which aims to create events that fill a need in the community, began a partnership with Seasons Cafe awhile ago while seeking a gathering place for numerous community events. Teen Night is the first such event to take place. “We had been desperately looking to find a space that could serve as home for (Teen Night) each week.”

Seasons Cafe chef and owner Julie Kimbrough said several different people had approached restaurant management asking about providing a place for teens to be able to gather. “So it just seemed to fit that we’d work (with PfCA) on this one. We strive to provide a laid-back, inclusive, community-oriented environment, and to us that means everyone, including teens.” Organic popcorn, chips and salsa are always free at Teen Night, and other food items offered at the event cost $5 or less.

While the event is not officially a “teen only” zone, organizers hope parents will be respectful of how their teen feels about having their parents present. “We want them to have an environment that they feel comfortable in. If that includes their parents, then so be it,” Sellars said. “The only warning is that if parents are there too much, we’ll put them to work!”

Brian Beaulieu, executive director of the BGCCC, described Sellars, his PfCA partner Mark Monroe and FYI Communities that Care Coordinator Miki Hodge as the “power trio.” “All three have a get-it-done and make-it-fun attitude. Combined with (the BGCCC’s) Tessie Ortega and FYI’s Dibby Olson, the new event has teens excited! Teens want to have control over their choices, but they want to be respected. One of my favorite mantras is: ‘If you want teens to want something, include them in the process.’

“There has to be a hook,” Beaulieu added. “I see a community that has its heart and soul in the right place rising up out of respect. I can tell because ‘fun’ is the biggest component. The best form of (troubled youth) prevention comes from being with their friends, having a place to go and doing something fun!”

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise money for the event. Sellars estimates a minimum of $6,100 will be needed to fund Teen Night through the end of 2018. Funds generated will be used to provide snacks and beverages at teen-friendly prices, compensate youth performers and cover entertainment and operating costs.

Teen Night is open to youth ages 13 and up and will take place every Thursday night from 6 to 9 p.m. at Seasons Cafe. For a schedule of upcoming events or to make a donation, visit SalidaTeenNight.com.