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Cultural pride takes root in tribal youth center

A new center for Port Gamble S’Klallam youth is on the books for construction in January or February . - Courtesy photo
A new center for Port Gamble S’Klallam youth is on the books for construction in January or February .
— image credit: Courtesy photo

LITTLE BOSTON – The heart of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is its people. As long as its people — both old and young – are healthy and happy, so goes the tribe. Part of being healthy starts with knowledge and pride, said Kelly Baze, youth program manager and drug and alcohol prevention coordinator.

In the last five years the tribe diligently worked to build a new library, education center, senior center and longhouse. Now, it focuses on its younger and future generations by building a new youth center.

“This community here really has a lot of heart,” said Joe Spear, project planner for the new youth center. “It really takes care of its youth and elders and the future generations of the tribe. Every move they make they take that into consideration.”

Construction of the new 4,000 square-foot building, slated for January or February 2009, will be built next to the Tribal Administration building, Spear said. The future center is projected to be about twice the size of the current youth center, which is one group room and one activity room inside the existing gym.

The project, designed by Coates Design on Bainbridge Island is estimated to cost less than $1 million, Spear said, adding it’s a tight budget for a building that size.

“Everything is designed to really meet the needs of the future. This tribe built all these buildings on a shoe string. This isn’t a wealthy casino tribe,” he said. “It shows you how much this community cares. It’s really not because they have unlimited funds.”

Baze said the youth center currently sees about 100 kids, or 60 percent of the reservation youth, in after-school support activities for grades four through nine and has nine employees in the program.

“What we want is a place kids can be proud of because they need to have a higher self esteem, feel valuable to set good goals and keep their goals up,” Baze said, adding that the current space “is very crowded and difficult to have two functions at the same time. It really can’t happen.”

The youth center programs offer camps, weekend events, recreation, homework help on Mondays, and cultural activities including song and dance.

Laura Price, who has worked with the tribe for 12 years, eight of those as the youth cultural activities coordinator, said she hopes the new building will attract some of the older kids to come back to the program.

“We are really excited about it. It’s been a long time coming and we’re looking for an increase in participation to spark interest in kids that haven’t been coming around as much,” Price said.

She anticipates the new building will draw a number of kids looking forward to recreating in a new building, planned to be spacious and bright with lots of windows.

“I’m just hoping some of the older ones, who we really do focus on for prevention, come back,” she said. “Hopefully it will inspire new interest in programs and help in gaining pride in themselves, their community and being healthy.”

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