It was standing room only as more than 100 Santa Clarita Valley community leaders, young people and parents gathered Tuesday night for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and presentations from local political representatives to celebrate the grand opening of the Action Family Zone for teens.
Located on Reuther Avenue just north of Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country and open Monday through Friday 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., “The Zone” (as it’s called for short) offers a safe, productive environment for middle-school- and high-school-age students ages 13-17, with activities and resources geared toward them.
The Zone features a music room stocked with guitars, amps and drums, an art studio, pool and ping-pong tables, computers, video games, a big-screen TV and more.
Resources available include homework tutoring and a wide range of workshops, including money management, life skills, nutrition and family workshops for teens as well as their parents, all free of charge.
It’s a place where teens can not only have fun, but also meet others, build social skills, and get assistance when they need it, according to its founders.
The Action Family Zone is a joint venture between the non-profit Action: A Parent-Teen Support Program headed by Cary Quashen, founder and CEO of Action Family Counseling (and host of the weekly “Families in Action” program on KHTS-AM 1220), and Alex Urbina, a transformational family life coach who’s worked with teens and parents for the past 15 years (and hosts the weekly “Life Leadership” program on KHTS).
Photo by Stephen K. Peeples
The organizations have put about $80,000 into leasing the space and purchasing furniture, equipment and other gear into The Zone.
“It’s been a vision of Action’s for many years to have our own teen center, and now it’s open,” said Quashen, who has dedicated the past 30 years to working with teens throughout the Hart School District, and is a nationally recognized expert on working with adolescents.
“This place is going to be exciting,” he said. Along with the aforementioned gear, “We’re going to have a lot of life leadership activities, teach kids how to do resumes, you name it. What’s needed, we have here.”
The Zone is a “clean and sober environment” designed to help teens discover who they are, and ways they can achieve their dreams and goals, Quashen said.
“It’s the launch of our prevention program, under the non-profit entity of Action Family Counseling,” he said. “We want to inspire kids so they make good choices early.”
“One of Cary’s main visions is to reach kids and help them build self-esteem before they get to the point that they’re in trouble,” said Urbina, who serves as The Zone’s director of training and education. “And I’ve always dreamed of opening my own personal development teen center. So I think we met at the right time and aligned our visions and partnered up to launch this center for our community.”
Quashen and Urbina oversee a small on-site staff headed by former Sanctuary Church youth pastor and program advisor Tim Salzarulo, assisted by Naomi Cherrygate.
“Tim is the director of this place — he’s going to make sure it’s running correctly and the operations are going smoothly,” Quashen said. “Naomi’s going to be right in the heart of everything, working with the kids and making sure everybody’s having a good ol’ time.”
Salzarulo said kids can get two things from The Zone. “First, they can get plugged into good relationships to continue to push them toward good things, and that they’ll have a place to continue to develop things they’re interested in — their art, their skills, math, whatever it is that they like.
“Also, there’s a lot of great organizations in this valley that are here to help teens, but they’re so spread out, teens don’t know where to get help,” Salzarulo said. “So, from Action Family Counseling, which deals with drug and alcohol abuse, to kids that get pregnant and don’t know what to do, or they’re dealing with domestic violence issues… we want to cover all those things so they’re able to come here and get help in any area.”
Salzarulo said Cherrygate’s role “is to be an advocate for the teenagers to continue to keep connected with them. She’ll also deal with all of the processing, phones, getting out a lot of our advertising, and she’s the first person that people see in here. She’ll be in the front office.”
Augmenting the staff is The Zone’s Leadership Team, which includes peer mentors like Jode Long, 16, a student at Bowman High School.
“Being on the Leadership Team means I get to be an example for other kids, and I get to help them go through things that I’ve already been through,” Long said. “On the team, we get to interact with a lot of kids who have gone through the exact same things that we’ve gone through, so it’s just a really cool experience and I’m happy that I’m on it.”
Urbina said part of the vision for The Zone is to provide teens with various means for self-expression.
“In the art room, kids can express what they’re feeling and let some of their emotions translate on paper and through their art,” he said. “In the music room, they can just pick up an instrument and try it. We’re big advocates of helping kids discover what they’re passionate about. We know that sometimes you can’t figure out what your passion is until you’re tried a few things.”
Urbina emphasized The Zone isn’t just a place to park on the cushy couch and watch TV or play games all the time. The Zone is more like a “personal growth center,” as it’s described in an introductory brochure.
“Membership is free, meaning it doesn’t cost any money, but we are asking for the parents and teens to make a commitment to participate,” Urbina said. “So your ‘fee’ is participation. It’s not just a hangout. It’s a place where you’re showing up with a commitment that you’re going to grow and you’re going to participate, discover and be self-aware.”
“We expect parents to participate in workshops, as part of our family connection,” Quashen said. “They could drop their kids off here, but in order for a kid to be involved in this place, the parents also have to be involved, and there have to be commitments on the parent or parents’ parts to be involved in this center.”
The Zone may not be open on weekends, but “there will be different activities every Saturday, and on evenings we’ll have different stuff going on,” Quashen said, including field trips and hikes on local trails.
Quashen and Urbina both emphasize The Zone is for all teens 13-17, not just kids at risk. “Whether you’re a high academic scholar or an athlete or a leadership kid or an at-risk kid, our workshops are designed to meet you where are, and open up possibilities for you to take you to your next level,” Urbina said. “So it’s not for ‘those kids’ — it’s for all teenagers.”
“Our motto is ‘It Takes a Village,'” Urbina said, “so we want to partner up with (parents) and say that when your kids are here, you can count on us to hold to higher standards to help raise your kids.”
After accepting congratulatory certficates and plaques from representatives of U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, state Senators Sharon Runner and Tony Strickland, state Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the City of Santa Clarita, and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, Quashen said, “We want to thank the Santa Clarita Valley community for trusting us with your children.”
Find The Zone at 20655 Soledad Canyon Road, Suite 24, off Reuther Avenue in Canyon Country. For more information, visit www.actionfamily.org.