Missoula's hip new hangout 

Hopes build for teen hangout

Club promotes culture for kids across class lines

Mary Place Allyn stands in a Woody Street doorway, looking into a dark, century-old cavern of a building in the heart of Missoula's funkiest neighborhood.

The building is a warren of interconnecting rooms that used to be a bar, now stripped of everything but the odd old jukebox revealed by flickering work lights. Allyn hopes to see a day when the 5,000 square feet will again be gathering place, albeit a clean and sober one.

Allyn and Mike Schaub, who's back in the darkness somewhere, are working to turn this place into a center for kids. Working under the time-honored aegis of the Boys and Girls Club of America, they're trying to gather steam for a good, old-fashioned small-town barn-raising.

There's plenty of work to do.

"We need, let's see, money, time and materials," Allyn says. "We need wiring, handicapped bathroom supplies, toilets, conduits, carpentry, plumbing, electricians, computers... Hey, Mike, is there anything else we need?"

"Everything," Schaub says.

It's not an understatement. The Boys and Girls Club, a 138-year-old organization famous for its yeoman work in inner cities, is new to Missoula and has landed a perfect space, but it'll take a lot of elbow grease to turn it into the fertile cultural center for middle- and high-school kids that Allyn and Schaub envision.

The Woody Street complex is kitty-corner from the Brunswick Building artists' studios, just off Missoula's last brick street, across the tracks from the Northside. There are more than enough rooms sprawling through the present darkness to house the wide variety of activities and resources planned for the future.

Allyn and Schaub want to build a place where Missoula kids now at loose ends can get together. To that end, they want each of the Woody Street rooms to serve a different demand, and the plans are impressive: coffee bar, billiards room, skatepark, a room stocked with music equipment, radio room, cosmetology room, computer lab, spaces for art, light industry and cooking.

According to Allyn, it's an opportunity Missoula can't afford to pass up.

"The founders of Boys and Girls Club locally were just plain people who recognized a need," she says. "There should be a place where kids can hang out, be mentored, have some education and learn some skills they can use to get some money in their pockets."

Allyn says she's seen first-hand the main problem kids face in Missoula-there's flat-out nothing to do. Schaub, for his part, got wind of the club's arrival in Missoula a few months ago and, as he puts it, jumped in at just the right time.

"I just wanted to get involved somehow," he says. "The main impetus, to begin with, came a few years ago when the Nail in the Coffin Gang and some other gangs were getting going, and some Northside kids said, hey, we want a place to go, a place to hang out so things like this don't happen.

"The thing that's great about Boys and Girls Club nationwide is that it is about what the kids want to do. They provide a framework in which I can go to the kids and say, what do you want to do. Boys and Girls Club can do that, they've been doing it for 138 years."

Schaub, who's in charge of program planning, already has the ball rolling, despite the work that needs to be done on the Woody Street center. More than 100 kids have signed up to become members once the place opens. A week of arts training and happenings is planned for the end of May, and a block party featuring local bands is being organized for the end of June. A small team of 'boarders is at work on the skatepark already.

Interest like this has Schaub and Allyn plainly jacked about their center's prospects. As they work to round-up donations of work and materials from local businesses, they're already looking ahead to what the place can be.

"One of the great things will be the social aspect," Schaub says. "When you're in middle school, I think you tend to live within your own school. So if there are five kids who play in a band, they'll hang out together. If a kid's into computers, he or she might be all alone in the school lab. Here, they can hang out with kids from all over the city who are into the same things they are.

"That kind of blending will just wipe out the social and economic differences. You'll get rich kids hanging out with poor kids. That money factor will just go away."

While excitement for the future is palpable, both Schaub and Allyn stress that there's a lot to do. Donations and help of all kinds are welcome, and Allyn says folks interested in seeing a place for Missoula's kids to hang should call 542-3116 or drop by 629 Woody for a tour.

Mike Schaub, program director for Missoula's fledgling Boys and Girls Club, envisions the day when this abandoned Woody Street building will accomodate a thriving youth center. Photo by Jeff Powers.

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