In November 2008, Julie Froelich believed the Sag Harbor Youth Center would have to close its doors. The Suffolk County Youth Bureau and other local municipalities planned to cut the center’s funding for 2009 by 25 to 50 percent, said Froelich, the director of the center. Froelich was sure the decreased funding was an insurmountable obstacle.
One day, she reflected on the history of the center and realized she wasn’t in a position to close it.
“I thought to myself, ‘How can I close this center? This isn’t mine to close,’” said Froelich. “The center existed before me. It has to exist after me.”
The Sag Harbor Youth Center officially opened in the 1970s, but Froelich said it has operated on an informal basis since the 1950s. The center has moved around the village throughout the years, and was previously located in the storefront adjacent to the movie theater, the current Provisions building and in the Schiavoni building which was recently demolished as part of the gas ball remediation project on West Water Street.
In recent years, the center has operated from a small storefront on Division Street just south of the intersection with Bay Street. But Froelich explains that with almost half of the center’s budget being used to pay the rent, she knew the center would need to relocate again in order to continue operation.
So Froelich soon devised a plan to save the center.
She recalled an article she read on the recently established Chris Grimbol Center for East End Adolescents at the Old Whalers’ Church, started by Pastor Bill Grimbol of Shelter Island.
“We had the kids, but we needed a center — and he already had a center but needed kids to come to it,” said Froelich. She approached Grimbol about merging the two centers and he was very receptive to the idea. Rev. Grimbol and Froelich bonded over a shared vision of how their organizations can help struggling teens.
“I found we had the same basic philosophy of how kids deal with stress and jump through life’s hurdles,” said Froelich. “There is tremendous competition out there and [teenagers] often struggle to find their niche. Kids will make mistakes … but we hope they can talk to us before they make big decisions.”
“I want to be a person they can come to and feel comfortable talking with,” she said.
Rev. Grimbol and Froelich soon secured a part-time location at the Old Whalers’ Church and worked out a schedule. The newly named Chris Grimbol/Sag Harbor Youth center will operate from Friday through Sunday at the church, and Froelich hopes the program will officially commence on April 1. As Froelich and Grimbol ironed out the logistics of the program, they designed a few educational classes for the 10 to 18-years-old who currently frequent the Sag Harbor Youth Center. The classes to be offered include Samaritan Project, which will encourage teens to volunteer at local homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and the Green Project, where teens devise ways to make the village more eco-friendly. Froelich is particularly proud of Project Excel, a program assisting older teens in the pre-college process.
“We want to walk them through it from start to finish,” said Froelich of the class.
These classes will be offered exclusively on Saturdays. The center will continue to offer a drop-in recreation and activity room, from Friday through Monday, from the church’s youth room on the second floor. All of the equipment, including the televisions, video games, pool table and air hockey table, will be moved to this new location.
On Sundays, Rev. Grimbol will offer his “Dinner Dialogue” series, where high school students can come together to share a meal and listen to a presentation on various issues associated with growing up.
The merged program is likely to draw a lot of attention from local youths. The Sag Harbor Youth Center currently serves almost 50 to 100 youths a month, and local teenagers have already told Froelich they are more likely to visit the new location because it is conveniently located near the school.