2016 Teen Services Board Retreat
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.The 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.
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
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:
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:
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.
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:
To learn more about the current Teen Center building and all of those who made it happen, click here.