Sasebo center targets 'lost age'
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The official name is the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Pre-teen Center at the Hario Housing Village.
But the kids who hang out there — and perhaps learn some of life’s useful lessons — call it simply “The Den.”
MWR officials here decided early this year to maneuver some of their resources toward pre-teens, children between ages 10 and 12 — or as Jennifer Reed calls them, “The Lost Age.”
“These kids are too old to participate with the younger children and not old enough to be included in activities for teenagers,” said Reed, MWR Pre-teen Center supervisor. “We call it ‘The Lost Age.’”
The Den is one large, open room packed with big-screen televisions, video games, air hockey and foosball tables, deep cushioned chairs and couches and for good measure, a few bean bag chairs — in other words, what might be in the dens of the kids’ homes.
Which may explain the name, which the children were told to select after MWR Director Scott Poluhowich announced plans for the pre-teen center at a town hall meeting in February.
Every day except Sunday, 15 to 30 “Lost Age” kids can be found in The Den, across the street from the Hario Gymnasium and across the hall but in the same building as the Navy Exchange Home Store.
“It’s their place to come and congregate and enjoy the things we have here,” said Lloyd Buster, MWR’s assistant director of youth activities in Hario. “And there are rules for their use of the center that we utilize to instill the idea of community responsibility. We encourage them to assume a sense of ownership.”
Buster said the pre-teen center’s popularity has mushroomed since it opened March 7, especially now that school is out for the summer.
“The main reason ... is because we make extra effort to listen to them and help make the center what they want it to be,” he added.
If The Den weren’t open six afternoons a week, said 11-year-old Vanny Angeles, she would have nothing to do this summer but go to the swimming pool or hang around her house. The center is open Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.
“I really like coming here and seeing my friends,” Vanny said just before showcasing her foosball skills against Jacob VanDiepen, 10, another regular in The Den.
PlayStation enthusiast Leonard Outz, 10, says he’d rather work his game controller at the center than at home.
“Here I can play against my friends and that makes it much more fun,” he explained. “Also here, they teach us things to become responsible in the community. Good things.”
“We provide the same kind of things for them that the Teen Center has, just ... more focused on their age,” Reed said.
In addition to table-top games and PlayStation, they also get structured life lessons from Buster and Reed in the Torch Club, a program used via the center’s association with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
“We have dances for them, just like the teens, and that’s one of the ways we show them they aren’t considered like ‘the little kids’ anymore,” Reed explained. “And hopefully we are teaching them some good leadership skills, to be good community members and confident in themselves.”
The Den sponsors other events, Reed and Buster said, such as an upcoming karaoke concert series that will be based loosely on the “American Idol” television show format, and trips to various area attractions.
Energy levels are high but “I don’t find it hard to work with them at all,” Buster said.
“I can talk to them on their level, and they know they can come and talk to us anytime, and they will be treated with respect ... the same respect I’d show toward their own mother and father.”
“That’s where we’re coming from,” Reed added. “We try to build that family environment. They have their own families, or an interior family. We are the exterior family.”
Nonetheless, this “family” does have one great big rule: No teenagers allowed.