Trackside continues providing teens with a place of their own

Ten years ago, Wilton lacked a teen center, so Dr. Keith Overland, a chiropractic physician and Wilton resident, decided to do something about it.

With a group of volunteers, Dr. Overland led the effort to create a place for teens to gather, socialize and participate in activities designed by teens for teens.

After struggling to raise funds through grants and donations, Trackside Teen Center opened in the fall of 2004.

Mark Ketley became Trackside’s current executive director in 2010.

As it celebrates its first decade, Trackside’s mission has always been to be a place for teens, as well as a safe and supervised alcohol-, tobacco- and drug-free venue — a mission that still stands to this day, said Mr. Ketley.

Since 2004, Trackside has offered year-round activities for teens, including movie nights, pizza nights, band nights.

Mr. Ketley said since he started working at Trackside, he and the rest of the staff have concentrated on making Trackside not only a teen center but also a place the community can enjoy.

“A lot of effort has gone into finding  a niche for teens that was lacking in town. One of those areas included live performances, live artists and live teen artists and musicians,” said Mr. Ketley.

“We’ve really provided a good spot for those group of kids to let them show off their skills on regular teen nights and during the coffeehouses series events.”

Jack Walsh, an 18-year-old student at Wilton High School, has been visiting Trackside for four years.

“There are many talented musicians in the high school, and Trackside gives them a venue to perform,” he said.

Mr. Ketley said that on the community side of things, the center has opened its doors to a lot of organizations to use the building during school hours.

“When the kids are in school, we didn’t want the building not being used,” he said, “so we’ve made large efforts to invite groups to use it for meetings and luncheons and workshops.”

To ensure that the kids know the center was built and designed for them, Mr. Ketley said, “we don’t have the adults there when the kids are there.”

“Organizations that use the building know they have to be out by 3 o’clock because the kids are coming and it’s their time,” he said.

“It’s first and foremost a teen center. We use it for the community and for adults to use, but when it’s the kids’ time, they have to leave.”

Located in the old Davenport-Dana house on Station Road, Trackside features seven rooms, including a board room, café, theater, game room,  computer lab, video game room, and The Barn, which is an open space with a stage and dance floor.

Brett Beatty, Trackside’s programming director, said a lot of bigger events are being added to Trackside’s events calendar.

“We’re constantly trying to come up with creative, new ideas to get teens in here,” said Mr. Beatty.

“We’ve been trying to get a sizable event every Friday night as much as we can,” he said. “It doesn’t always work out logistically, but Friday night has been our big programming night for middle school and high school students.”

Trackside is open weekdays from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. and until midnight on weekends.

“During the week, we’ve been doing some clubs and classes,” said Mr. Beatty. “We’ve just been trying to get kids here in different facets versus just being open to have them come drop in.”

Mr. Ketley and Mr. Beatty both said the feedback from the teens has been mostly positive.

“When we have big events, we get a lot of positive feedback. For example, we just had a big show with Doug Bogan and we had almost 250 high school kids,” said Mr. Beatty.

“Since that show, people have been asking us all the time to set something up again like that so they can come. It was a really positive experience for everyone that was there.”

Mr. Ketley said the teens seem to love it and he believes it’s because they feel comfortable and free.

“They come for different things — a class offering, just to drop in, dances — I think the thing they like about it is it’s their place,” he said.

Trackside has a 15-member board of directors, four of whom are high school students.

Jack Walsh is one of those student board members.

“I think Trackside is a great facility that has a lot of potential,” he said.

Since Trackside’s opening, the focus of the board and staff has been to ensure that Trackside remains a teen-oriented center.

“We continue to watch for what the kids want and provide it for them,” said Mr. Ketley, “whether it’s past program offerings or something new and exciting in the building for them to use.”

As a not-for-profit organization, Trackside relies on the town of Wilton to cover a portion of its staffing costs.

Trackside is responsible for funding the balance of these costs, as well as 100% of its annual operating expenses, regular maintenance, facility upgrades, and programming.

In order to do so, Trackside must raise money through fund-raisers and the help of donations and grants.

On Jan. 17, Trackside sent out its annual appeal.

“We don’t ask for a specific amount [but] our goal is $14,000,” said Mr. Ketley. “We mail our appeals to every household in Wilton, asking for the community’s support.”