For years, the Parachutes Teen Club and Resource Center quietly and somewhat mysteriously occupied a back corner of the Dimond Center’s 2nd floor. Unless you were between the ages of 13 and 18, what lay behind the space’s blacked out windows was inaccessible but highly sought after. According to Parachutes’ promotional pamphlet, Friday night crowds could reach upwards of 300 teens all congregated around pool tables and TVs. But as the Dimond Center embarked on an extensive remodeling plan, Parachutes found itself on the outside looking in after 11 years of calling the mall its home.
“Dimond Center just had a different idea of what they wanted to do with that space and it didn’t involve Parachutes,” said Parachutes Executive Director Jake Hubers. “I think the Dave and Buster’s may be going into that space now but I’m not sure.”
Without a brick and mortar space of their own, Parachutes was forced to consider the future viability of the organization.
“When we had to move, the Board of Directors had a discussion about our next steps and we collectively decided that Parachutes is something that the community needed and we wanted to continue,” said Hubers.
Finding a space that would address the unique needs of Parachutes was easier said than done.
“When we were trying to find a new space we had to factor in things like: can kids get there, are there buses that go by there, is there space to do a teen center, will the space accommodate everything we want to do,” explained Huber.
After months of searching, Parachutes found its new home in a former H&R Block on the corner of Lake Otis and 56th Avenue right next to a car wash, bakery and liquor store. It wasn’t the space of their dreams but with the help of a $60,000 renovation budget Hubers and his Board of Directors were able to transform the space into a modern, comfortable haven for teens.
“We did about 9 months of renovation before we moved in but most of that was permitting with the city. The main project was the café because there was no plumbing in the space. Once that was completed, our staff helped pick out the color schemes and décor,” Huber said.
A grant from the Rasmuson Foundation provided a pool table and some furniture while private donations endowed the space with computers and a TV. In the back, there is a makeshift gym complete with a fold-up ping pong table and basketball hoop.
While creating a welcoming physical environment was important to Hubers, the core of Parachutes is the youth.
“We are open to everyone but we usually draw in more at-risk youth or youth who are struggling in school or on the verge of homelessness or youth who are trying to escape some sort of issue they have outside of Parachutes. This kind of is a place where the kids can establish their own community. Typically, we are serving youth from this area and we typically get youth from East and Service which are the two closest high schools. But mainly, kids come here based on word of mouth from their friends, so it’s not uncommon to have kids come as far as Muldoon,” said Hubers.
14-year-old Dylan Hillhouse is one youth who makes the daily commute from Mt. View via bus to hang out at Parachutes.
“I have been coming here for about a year - I heard about it from my sister,” explained Hillhouse. “I like having somewhere to go where I can do stuff like play basketball or video games. I think Parachutes is important because a lot of times there isn’t anything to really do but you can come here and hang out with friends.”
Of course it isn’t all just fun and games. Parachutes also offers a homework incentive program, provides nightly meals courtesy of The Children’s Lunchbox and hosts a weekly session they call ‘The Table.’
“’The Table’ is a time when we all come together to have a meal and a discussion about whatever is on their mind. We usually talk about the life issues that the youth are dealing with. Sometimes we point it around a scripture and ask questions based on that. It’s always fun to hear what the youth have to say about things,” said Hubers.
Although Parachutes is a faith-based organization, Hubers sees that as secondary to providing a judgement free environment for the youth.
“There are just a lot of issues going around with youth, especially youth who are struggling with substance abuse. A lot of times the youth go to a service agency for help and the immediate thought is we are going to accomplish something – we are going to help you get a job or you’re going to stop being homeless. But really I think the step that is missing is acceptance. Youth really need someone to listen to them and to give them a second to just be who they are. We want youth to know that they are cared about no matter where they are. We don’t want them to feel like they are just a project for someone.”
To learn more about Parachutes Teen Club and Resource Center or to donate, visit ParachutesAlaska.org