by Ryan Labadens, US Navy Public Affairs

The teens and staff at the Teen Center onboard Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport have a new reason to shine with pride – the center was awarded Gold Charter status by the Keystone Club for the Sept. 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020 timeframe.

“This is a first,” said John Hartsell, Youth Activities Center director. “We have achieved Silver Charter status in the past, but never Gold.”

The Teen Center, which is run by staff from NCBC Gulfport Morale, Welfare and Recreation, is a program available Monday through Friday for teens that offers many activities like sports, leadership classes and a variety of field trips, according to the NavyMWR Gulfport website. The Keystone Teen Only Club – which the MWR Teen Center runs in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America – is a program where teens can conduct activities related to academic success, career exploration, community service and teen outreach.

Jennifer Bush, MWR teen coordinator, noted that the Keystone Club has three different chartering statuses for the organizations it partners with: Basic, Silver and Gold.

Bush said she and the rest of the staff put forth a lot of effort to shoot for Gold Charter status, and all of their hard work – and especially the efforts of all the teens who participated – really paid off.

“With our new staff we were shooting for Gold this year, and we achieved it,” said Bush.

“There were certain things we had to do to get to Gold status,” Bush continued. “We had to maintain the basic charter, which is holding weekly meetings for Keystone, submit plans for implementing Keystone in our program, and we had to submit a national project.”

The project the staff and teens worked on was in the category of Health and Nutrition, and it involved the teens cooking up a healthy version of a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal.

“The teens planned a Thanksgiving event where they invited their parents, filled out invitations, and we helped them create healthier options to serve at the meal, such as roasted turkey and a variety of different vegetables. We had a lot of healthy options,” said Bush.

The other big event the teens participated in was the Halloween Fright Night event hosted by MWR onboard NCBC.

“They loved it. They dressed up and worked on the haunted maze and worked on the children’s events. That particular event earned them a big chunk of service hours,” said Bush. “Whenever MWR has events, the teens try to volunteer for them.”

Bush said the teens participated in several other events, such as We Own Friday – which allows the teens to plan fun activities like the Ugly Sweater Competition they held – and invite outside friends to attend as part of their teen outreach.

“It’s their club, and we want to help facilitate it for them,” said Bush. “They help us plan lessons and events so they can be actively engaged and truly make it their own.”

The teens also participated in National Day of Service and Worldwide Day of Play initiatives, helping the Youth Activities Center with setting up and running various Field Day events for the younger children. They also participated in Dinner in a Jar, where they made meals that they took to the Liberty Center for single Sailors.

“All of those service hours and volunteer events, and all of the efforts of the staff in putting this together – all of that combined got us to Gold,” said Bush.

While the center is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bush said the staff still actively keeps in contact with its teen members and is looking for ways to keep them engaged in the program virtually through NavyMWR Gulfport Facebook page.

“We’ve been working on putting together some videos and drills on how to stay healthy, like food projects they can do, that we can hopefully post to the MWR Facebook page for them,” said Bush.

Any MWR-eligible patrons who would like to find out more information about the activities offered at the Teen Center, or how to enroll their teens at the center, can contact the staff members at 228-822-5074.