Our History



2016 Teen Services Board Retreat

Sonoma Valley Teen Services (now Teen Services Sonoma) was the name adopted by the merger of two organizations - Operation Youth and Valley of the Moon Teen Center - which shared a common mission to empower Sonoma Valley youth to make positive choices for their health, safety, education and future. The merger was official on May 7, 2010. 

Operation Youth was incorporated January 1, 2003 and consisted of four programs:
•    The No-Name Café - a student run café at Sonoma Valley High School
•    The Shop - a drug and alcohol-free music venue managed by the students and held at the Dowling Miner building on 8th Street East
•    Teen Safe Ride - free taxi service home for teens finding themselves in an unsafe situation
•    The RAD (Respect and Dignity) program - a teen gathering on Monday afternoons at the high school to talk about teen life and issues
Cristin Lawrence (Felso) was the program manager for these four programs. More information about Operation Youth is included below, but if you would like to read the details about how the Teen Center came to be, you will enjoy reading the recollections of Art Fichtenberg: How the Valley of the Moon Teen Center Got Built Or It truly does take a village.

Valley of the Moon Teen Center (originally called El Nido) was incorporated in 1997 in a rented facility in Boyes Hot Springs. Rebecca Hermosillo was the Executive Director. The VOM teen center was "re-born" when it moved into its current location in July 2008. The $1,100,000 facility provided a better venue for the various programs being offered and is now simply referred to as the Teen Center. It housed a computer room for homework and research, a project room, a vocational classroom, a commercial kitchen, offices, a basement for repairing bikes, and a central room where everyone gathers to simply "hang out." More information about the VOM Teen Center is included below.


Operation Youth:

John Randall started the organization in 2003 with a vision of providing a space for teens to gather and enjoy performing and visual arts at The Shop, which included art galleries, poetry slams, and live music - all managed by the teens themselves, with adult supervision. The Shop averaged 30 events per year and attendance ranged from 40-120 teens who paid admission to the events to support the operation. Niels Chew leased his building the building on 8th Street East for $6,000 a year.

teens_at_the_NNC.jpgThe No Name Café started in 2005 in partnership with the high school. It provided a place where 60-80 students could meet before and after school and at lunch to do homework, chat, drink hot chocolate and use the computers donated by the Vadasz Foundation.  Student artwork from the No Name Art Society was proudly displayed on the café walls. More than 200 students come through the café every school day. The café was managed by students as part of a growing work skills program. Students learned good work habits, cash register operation, and the importance of customer service.  

John Randall was honored as Volunteer of the Year by the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation in 2007 as recognition for his contributions to valley youth.  Niels Chew was the 2010 Alcalde in large part for his ongoing support of youth in the valley, which includes The Shop and the VOM Teen Center on whose boards he also served.  

Valley of the Moon Teen Center/El Nido

The VOM Teen Center was started by a group of individuals who wanted to have a place for teens to go after school to discuss teen interests (dating, nutrition, gang prevention, and parent issues) and to plan weekend outings, such as bike rides and trips to explore the Bay Area. Originally teens met at the Feed Barn (now the Red Grape) near the plaza, but then moved to El Nido in Boyes Hot Springs, which provided a safe place to meet, develop their individual talents, and acquire job skills for future employment. Homework assistance and counseling were also available, as well as art, boxing, and bicycle repair. Cycle Links (an early version of Operation Bicycle) got its start in the basement of El Nido. To learn more about El Nido, see El Nido Teen Center.  
All of the teens who came to the center lived in Sonoma Valley and 85% were of Latino background, living in the Boyes Springs area. Initially, approximately 30 teens a day came to the center to do homework on computers, get assistance from adult volunteers, and use the work out room. The teens prepared meals together with vegetables and herbs from the garden (thanks to Doug and Marcia Mo) and shared information about family, friends and school. No gang affiliations were allowed into the building.  

With the addition of a commercial kitchen (funded by Cathy Williamson), there was a renewed focus on healthy nutrition, and the proposition to collaborate with Operation Youth and have teens prepare healthy snacks and learn how to market their products at the No Name Café.


In March, 2010, four teenage bakers (Esther Oros, Janet Gonzalez, Yazel Cazares and Maria Cazares), under the supervision of Farmers Insurance Agency owner Anea Kamahele and Rebecca Hermosillo, launched a program called "Lovin' Oven." The girls created their own mission statement and logo, developed menus, operated their test kitchen and found an eager market at the No Name Café as well as at public events, such a farmers' markets. The latter received attention from Kathleen Hill, the culinary reporter from the Sonoma Index Tribune. With her promotional help, the teens experienced highly successful holiday sales of pumpkin and pecan pies and received requests for products at local fund-raisers and social events.

The girls discovered that there are price point differences for the adult-buying public and for teens at the café.  Barbara Muttscheler, a retired caterer and cook book publisher, was the creative force behind many of the baked goods and guided the teens to price products appropriately to improve profit margins. The micro-business flourished and the skills learned by the four girls were clearly impressive. In their words:

  • Maria: I've learned how hard it is to run a business; and in order for us to be able to keep the business, we have to put in a lot of work.
  • Janet: Lovin' Oven has been a learning experience that will last a life time.  Not only has it taught me financial responsibility and baking, but it has also taught me how to bond and work as a team.  Lovin' Oven has expanded my knowledge of running a business.  Most importantly, it has taught me that anything is possible as long as I have dedication and determination.
  • Esther: I have learned responsibility, money management, commitment, and baking delicious goodies.            


The four teens of the Lovin' Oven, plus those that were employed at the No Name Café, and those who managed and promoted events at The Shop, all benefitted from five common experiences:

  • They were engaged
  • They were employed
  • They increased their confidence and self-esteem
  • They gained skills for life
  • They were empowered

Not only did these achievements reflect the original intent of the Operation Youth and VOM Teen Center founders, they formed the basis for a renewed focus on providing teens in Sonoma Valley with vocational training and apprenticeship programs. 

The resulting program was called Skills for Life and consisted of the following components:

The teen-run catering micro-enterprise emanating from the Teen Center's commercial kitchen - the Lovin Oven - in which teens were trained in all aspects of food preparation and sales and gained essential skills required by the food, beverage, and hospitality industries, which are major employers in our area.

  • Field trips to work site and equipment demonstrations to show teens specific work opportunities.
  • Job preparation workshops, such as "Dress for Success," resume-writing, and interviewing techniques to help teens present themselves to prospective employers.
  • Pre-job training and role-playing practice in sales situations to prepare them to work well with customers, other employees, and supervisors.

A $100,000 grant in 2011 from Impact100 Sonoma in support of the Skills for Life program enabled Teens Services to move forward with a concrete program that provided "local youth, ages 13-23, with basic employment skills including work readiness, résumé development, mock interviews, financial literacy, and opportunities for internships and job placement." 

Within five years, Skills for Life evolved into an effective Ready to Work program offered six times a year at three different locations.  Each course is free for students and composed of six 2-hour, highly interactive workshops taught by industry professionals.  Topics range from general employment behavior to advanced networking skills.  In 2015, 148 teens were enrolled in the courses and 100 graduated with Ready to Work certificates.  Of those graduates, 21 enrolled in college and 39 were placed in jobs within the community.  In the summer of 2016, Teen Services initiated a new vocational training program in welding and blacksmithing.  Teen Services has received recognition in workforce development at both the local and community levels.

Cristin Lawrence Felso, Teen Services Executive Director at the time, explained that this transformation occurred "because the $100,000 Impact Grant was more than an amazing monetary gift.  It was a signal that the community believed in us and in what we were doing."

We are indebted to all of the people who helped us along our journey. A partial, but growing, list:

  • The original board of Sonoma Valley Teen Services: Tim Boeve, President; Charles Harris, Treasurer; Jean Hopeman, Secretary; and members Ana Beyerly, Margie Brooke, Steve Cohen, Osias Encarnacion, Chuck Harris, Jim Mitchell, John Randall, Skip Wangbickler, Jerica Tercero, and Walt Williams.  
  • All those who contributed to our capital campaign that enabled us to move into our current location
  • Art Fichtenberg, Construction Committee Chairman and Board Member
  • The construction companies and suppliers helped with the building and grounds: Dick Ghilottii and Ghilottii Construction' Roger Nelson and Midstate Construction
  • Numerous sub-contractors who donated their work - the value of the donated work exceeded $200,000
  • Cathy and Chuck Williamson for our commercial kitchen
  • Osias Encarnacion and Jean Hopeman responsible for the Skills for Life program
  • Doug Mo and Marcia Charles Mo hosted our first Cowboy Cab
  • Les and Judy Vadasz and the Vadasz Family Foundation for our computer lab

To learn more about the current Teen Center building and all of those who made it happen, click here.