Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe celebrates new youth center

The Port Gamble S
The Port Gamble S'Klallam tribe dedicated its new youth center Tuesday with a naming ceremony.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/Staff Photo

LITTLE BOSTON — A new youth center on the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation is a place where children can learn tribal traditions. It’s also a place where they can plug in a guitar and let loose.

Inside is a sound recording studio paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which Port Gamble S’Klallam Youth Program Manager Kelly Baze hopes will help tribal youth find their voice.

“They really like doing their traditional songs, but a lot are excited about creating new, modern music of their own,” Baze said. “Just to be able to expose them to new skills and new hobbies, that might be the most important part of this.”

The Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe dedicated the youth center with songs and prayer at a naming ceremony Tuesday. The building’s name “Schee-eye-yuth A-ing,” literally “youth house,” speaks to the center’s simple mission.

It provides a refuge where children study, play games and learn culture. And it keeps them out of trouble.

“The kids need a place to be,” said Francine Swift, who works with the tribe’s education program and served as a witness to the naming ceremony. “Being a protective mother, you want to know that your kids are in a safe and alcohol- and drug-free place, a place with good people to be around.”

The tribe has had such a place for decades, just never one so large and bright.

Some elders remembered when a basketball rim was the sum of the youth activities on the reservation.

A two-room youth center was later attached to the tribal government building.

Today about 200 tribal members are under the age of 18. In recent years the old youth center had been running out of room.

“It’s been in the same building for 20 years and it hasn’t grown with the children,” Baze said of the old center.

At 3,500 square feet the new center is expansive and well equipped.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted $175,000 to the project, which helped pay for the construction and the multimedia room. Another $500,000 came from the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development. Puget Sound Energy contributed to the project, as did the tribe and the tribal housing authority.

Coates Design planned the building with a distinctive peaked roof and wall of windows facing Port Gamble Bay. MJ Takisaki finished the construction in time for a mid-December opening.

Baze said the new space will allow the center to offer programs for children of different ages simultaneously, something not possible in the old two-room center.

“There are just so many things we can add,” Baze said.

Paul Hebert, 16, also served as a witness to the naming ceremony and is one of about 65 to 70 youths who use the center regularly.

Hebert said the center is a good place to make friends and stay busy. He likes the space of the new building.

Without the youth center in Little Boston, Hebert said, “there wouldn’t be much to do.”

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