Ground Zero center Teen Feed is "the bomb" in Seattle, WA, USA

Tom Boland (
Mon, 21 Jun 1999 19:13:59 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Seattle Times - Thursday, June 10, 1999 [Washington state, USA]


by Jose Miguel Romero
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

     The teens who go there say Ground Zero is "the bomb," their expression
for something or someone they like.

     On a recent Thursday night at Ground Zero, a youth center in a former
church near Bellevue Square, teens wander around the building, some
listening to music, others playing pool, basketball or video games or
enjoying the warm evening outside. A glittering disco ball hangs above a
stage at the far end of the main room.

    "I'm getting hungry," a boy says.

    The food arrives - packages of warm lasagna, garlic bread, green salad,
cookies and vegetables. Everyone gathers around a picnic table outside,
lining up to load their paper plates.

     It's Teen Feed, and about 40 youths are enjoying a free meal.

     For some, a hot dinner is a welcome sight not often found at home - if
they have a home. For others, Teen Feed is simply dinner out among friends
in a hip, relaxed setting.

     Some of the kids have had problems staying in school. Others are
runaways or homeless. Others have few problems, but use the center as a
place to go after school and jam with bandmates or review music.

     That's the beauty of Ground Zero and, specifically, the Teen Feed,
center director Sarah Gersten-Rothenberg says.

     "Food brings kids together," she says. "Some kids just come because
Ground Zero is a cool place to hang out. Teenagers relate to loosely
organized things."

      If it were a sit-down dinner, Gersten-Rothenberg says, it would be
less fun and less interesting.

     Teen Feed is open to all teenagers, with no attention focused on
whether they might be homeless or disadvantaged. "We found that feed
programs were embarrassing for some homeless teens, so we opened it up so
the kids who really need food don't have to sneak in," Gersten-Rothenberg

     Teen Feed has been operating for three years at Ground Zero, providing
meals in a safe environment for up to 50 teenagers a week. The food is
provided by sponsors, usually a family, business or church group, who also
prepare and serve it.

     "It's grubbin' food," says Robert German, an appreciative 16-year-old
who explained that he was expelled from Juanita High School in Kirkland but
will return to school there in the fall. "I wouldn't be eating this if it
wasn't good."

     German, a Thursday-night regular, says Teen Feed and other Ground Zero
programs have helped him interact more positively with others his age.

      A mouthful of lasagna - his fifth helping - wasn't enough to stop him
from talking. Teen Feed "is a place to come eat dinner with friends and
enjoy," he says.

     Thirteen-year-old Rachel Weedman, a student at Robinswood Alternative
School in Bellevue, says she came to Teen Feed on the advice of a mentor at
a Kirkland teen program.

     "This is so cool," Weedman says. "You can hang out, and things are
cheap (the prices for snacks), and it's right next to the Boys & Girls

     Ground Zero staff member Chris Cullen says teens from all walks of
life and ethnic backgrounds come to the center, looking for a place to fit
in or to steer clear of trouble.

     The latter was the reason why Nichole Wicklund, 14, started coming to
Teen Feed. She thinks of Ground Zero as a safe haven.

     "I don't feel safe at school sometimes because of people I have
problems with," she says. "People here like me. Lots of kids who used to
get in trouble come here."


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