Two years ago, the city of Tallahassee and Leon County partnered to convert an old community center into the Palmer Munroe Teen Center. Today, the center is helping some teens become filmmakers and musicians. And, it’s helping others make better choices as they plan a life after high school.
A teenage boy is being held in a cell at the Leon County Jail, and he’s overcome with emotion. More than 20,000 young people are admitted to detention centers every year in Florida as they await court appearances or serve sentences. But this time, the scene is just pretend.
It’s a film shoot for a movie called “Choices,” being produced by young people from the Palmer Munroe Teen Center, and directed by staffer Enrika Sissle. Teenagers are writing, editing, acting in and composing and performing original songs for the 20-minute film. Seventeen-year-old Zack Jones did the voiceover for the “Choices” promo, for which he used his best movie-announcer voice to say, "THIS SUMMER…THEY’RE MAKING A MOVIE…A MOVIE ABOUT MUSIC…A MOVIE ABOUT CHOICES."
The movie’s based on one of the writer’s own experiences, choosing between college and a rap career. Counselor Glenn Hutchinson, who is helping the young people compose music for the "Choices," says the film will get a big premiere later this month.
“We just want to give them the whole experience because the majority of them don’t have the chance to get outside of Tallahassee, let alone California for a red-carpet event," he says. "So we just want to bring it to them and show them what it’s like to be a superstar, at least for a day.”
At a Tallahassee City Commission meeting in June, Commissioner Gil Ziffer said, the city’s investment in the center, of $150,000, is public money well spent.
“The dollars that we’re putting into this teen center are paying huge dividends," he said.
Specifically, Ziffer applauds the center’s new program for juvenile criminal offenders, called Community Connections. Ziffer says, the program is so effective that, in the two years since it replaced its predecessor, called restorative justice, the percent of teens who go through the programs and then reoffend, has gone down, from around 35 percent to just 10 percent. It’s funded by a grant from the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
Recently, a group of about 15 teens were at the center for the first session in the 12-week Community Connections program. Their leader starts with a journal writing exercise on a theme: “Who am I and who do I want to become?”
Over the course of the twice-weekly program, the teens will plan how to achieve their goals. They perform community service projects and learn how to get dressed for interviews. And program staff visit their schools and homes to check on their progress.
Palmer Munroe Teen Center director Tomica Smith says, the program’s life lessons are valuable for all teens, not just juvenile offenders.
“If every parent sat in on one session, they’d say, ‘Oh, I want my child to be in that program,'" she says.
Actually, parents can sign their teens up for Community Connections voluntarily. The rest of them end up here, either by a court-order meant to divert them from detention centers, or as a condition of their probation.
Community Connections director Rick Davison says, he’s excited that the newest group of teens is very socio-economically diverse.
"And so we’re going to bring those two groups together, and by the end, we’re hoping that they’re homogenous, that they understand that they’ve got more things in common than they do different," he says.
Davison says, often, the teens come for Community Connections and end up staying at the center for hours to play basketball, use the computers or make music and movies. And “Choices,” the center’s first-ever movie, makes its debut at the center, 1900 Jackson Bluff Road, on Aug. 25.
Click here to view the "Choices" official promo.