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GAETA, Italy — Forget the games, forget the PlayStation 2s, and forget the foosball table. Devin Gravgaard has a much simpler reason for wanting to go to Gaeta’s new Boys and Girls Club of Gaeta Teen Center.

“Because we get to have time without our brothers and sisters,” the 13-year-old seventh-grader said after a game of air hockey. Nearly the entire table full of girls, and one boy, agreed.

These teens, and about two dozen or so other sixth- to 12th-graders, were spending their first official afternoon at the center surfing the Internet, playing air hockey or just spending time together.

Base MWR Youth Activities Director Jason Cerkan said that Gaeta received a $12,000 grant from Navy Region Europe last year for the facility, located at the base’s community center, and has been working to get it open since.

Military and civilian personnel from the base public works division converted the former tickets and tours office into the youth center over the winter. Plans are already in the works to add a dozen or more square feet to the existing few-hundred square feet.

Though a first glance may give an impression that it serves only as a teen hangout, Cerkan said the center has programs ranging from physical fitness to helping kids with schoolwork.

The Boys and Girls Club is even providing health and development classes that will be integrated into school curriculum.

The center’s programs, Cerkan said, will balance entertainment and educational programs to meet the Boys and Girls Club of Gaeta’s mission of building “productive, responsible and caring citizens.”

Cerkan said the balance seems to be working as teens are taking advantage of the programs.

The only ones who don’t seem to like the new center are those too young to go. Jealously, it seems, has set in.

“Which,” said 13-year-old Brooke Fornea, “is always a good thing.”

Teen center basics

All military and Department of Defense civilian family members in sixth through 12th grades are authorized to participate in Boys and Girls Clubs of Gaeta programs. Teens who have graduated from high school can participate until the start of what would traditionally be their first semester of college.

There is a monthly $5 fee.

Teens can bring one American guest. Guests must fall in the grade requirements, be escorted by their hosts and follow club rules. One day a month will be designated to bring an Italian friend to the center.

Hours of operation are 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The final two hours on Friday and Saturday night are set aside for high school teens.

— Jason Chudy


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