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Teens shoot hoops on a recent Thursday afternoon at the base teen center on the Gricignano housing area in Naples, Italy.

Teens shoot hoops on a recent Thursday afternoon at the base teen center on the Gricignano housing area in Naples, Italy. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — If you build it, they will come. But if you can’t staff it, they can’t come.

Such is the problem faced by morale, welfare, and recreation officials at Naval Support Activity Naples, where the popular youth and teen centers at the Gricignano support site housing area have recently lost so many staff members for various reasons that they cut back on activities and opening hours.

“It was a big PCS (permanent change of station) year for people leaving and nobody’s applying [for jobs at the centers],” said youth activities director Cathy Knapp. “We didn’t have anyone for months.”

Knapp said one big reason they can’t fill the positions is because the centers need help in the evenings and on weekends, when people traditionally spend time with their families.

But Naples isn’t alone in looking for people to fill positions. Many Air Force services squadrons in Europe are also having problems filling a variety of positions, not just those dealing with youth and teens.

A Stars and Stripes article earlier this year showed that about 10 percent of service-related positions at American air bases in England were vacant, and nearly 20 percent were vacant at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Naval Station Rota, Spain, is also experiencing summer turnovers. But, said MWR director Tom Moriarty, it’s not any worse than any other year. Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, is only a few staff members short at its youth center, said Woody Olasin, youth/teen activities director, but is “extremely short-staffed” at its child development center.

But, Olasin added, they’re “making-do.”

The weekly Sunday closure has drawn groans from teens, including 15-year-old Valentina Lee, who says she spends up to a dozen hours a day at the teen center, which is located in the support site’s village forum area.

“I’d say the majority of the kids use it,” Valentina said about the center. “It’s where you meet your friends at.”

“We’ve got the best teens here,” Knapp said. “They’re fun, involved; their interaction with the staff is positive.”

Plus, Knapp said, employees are able to share their own hobbies or sporting skills with the kids. “They’re not stuck in an office; you’re out playing and having fun,” she said.

One former staff member liked remote control cars, she explained, and they started an R/C club. Another taught kids about using digital photography programs.

“Staff members have the opportunity to teach, to inspire,” she said.


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