Dillingham youth center to close due to lost grant funding

Myspace employee Darren Petla organizes supplies in the art room in preparation for the center's close in a few weeks. (Photo by Hannah Colton/KDLG)
Myspace employee Darren Petla organizes supplies in the art room in preparation for the center’s close in a few weeks. (Photo by Hannah Colton/KDLG)

The Myspace Youth Wellness Center in Dillingham will likely close its doors at the end of the month, as its grant funding has run out.

Myspace is a series of rooms geared toward teens – an art room, a kitchen stocked with snacks, a living room with a TV and video games.

On a recent afternoon, the rooms were neat and quiet, but Myspace employee Darren Petla says it’s not always like that.

“We have days when we are like brothers and sisters, like ‘OK you need to put that down, quit being’ mischief! No running’ around! Turn down that music!’ … You know, something like that every so often. So it’s good,” he said.

Petla enjoys working at Myspace. He talks to teenagers about their school day, cooks with them, helps them with homework. But come Nov. 30, Petla may be out of a job.

“The grant ended June 30, so SAFE has funded this, and now we’re at a hard deadline because we don’t have the money,” he said.

Karen Carpenter is the outreach and education coordinator at SAFE. She says Myspace was funded as part of the $373,000 “CANDU” grant that a group of Dillingham organizations received in 2011. It was awarded under former Governor Sean Parnell’s campaign against domestic violence and then extended through June 2015.

It’s the same grant that put fish art on buildings downtown and bus shacks in neighborhoods.

Anna Rae Petla, employee Gregg Marxmiller, and other teens organize the art room at Myspace. (Photo by Molly Dischner/KDLG)
Anna Rae Petla, employee Gregg Marxmiller, and other teens organize the art room at Myspace. (Photo by Molly Dischner/KDLG)

Carpenter says the goal of all the CANDU projects was to make the community feel safer and more positive, especially for young people.

“Children are going go where the door’s open,” she said. “That’s the bottom line. So which door (are you going) to leave open for them? It’s going to be the home of the drug dealer. Or the drinking, the parents fighting and screaming, and no food in the house, with no electricity, no heat… So if we provide this safe environment and surround them with good, healthy options, it affects them. It changes them. So our goal has been to keep the right doors open.”

And children have made good use of that doorway. SAFE records show that Myspace activities drew about 150 children in the last year.

One of them was 17-year-old Brandon Dyasuk.

“There’s not a lot of stuff to do. I used to get in trouble a lot … I’m gonna be getting out of treatment soon, you know? This place can help keep me out of trouble and keep me in school. It helps me stay around sober people,” he said.

Keeping children off drugs is a high priority at Myspace. Even smelling like cigarettes is against the rules. But 15-year-old Anna Rae Petla says the center can also help with just the day-to-day challenges of being a teenager.

“I like Myspace because they help you with schoolwork and how to understand things when you’re alone — when you feel alone but you’re not alone. I don’t what I would do if Myspace has closed,” Petla said.

Petla, Dyasuk, and others may have to hang out elsewhere this winter, unless SAFE can raise the $6,500 a month it takes to keep Myspace staffed.

SAFE is currently planning fundraising efforts, including a table at the Christmas bazaar, soliciting private donations and applying for more grants.

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