Spring is a time of renewal, and this season the Vinalhaven Arts and Recreation Center (ARC) is enjoying a renewal of its own with the implementation of the Vinalhaven Youth Zone (VYZ) and the ARCafe. The VYZ is a supervised space for student socializing and the ARCafe is the island’s first Internet cafe.

ARC Director Tristan Jackson has been working with students on the revitalization of the ARC for two years. The student group is known as the ACCESS team, which stands for Active Community Centers for Exercise and Safe Socializing.

Together, Jackson and the ACCESS team, along with adult volunteers, tackled the ARC project in two phases. The first phase consisted of setting up the Vinalhaven Youth Zone in the ARC’s big, back room. The youth zone is now home to a skateboarding half-pipe, as well as a ping-pong table, popcorn machine and a movie projector. In addition, there is a loft outfitted with lamps and pillows for hanging out. “For a low cost we were able to turn it into a place kids want to be everyday,” said Jackson. According to Building and Programs Manager Amy Smith, there is a core of 10 to 12 kids, ranging in age from 6 to 18, who come to the youth zone almost every day.

With that early success, Jackson said, the students were able to put together a fundraising brochure that was used to gather additional funds for further renovations. In addition to solicitation by mail, ACCESS held fundraising events and solicited donations in person. Their efforts raised $80,000, some of which was used to install a donated furnace that allows the VYZ room to be heated separately from the rest of the building.

Phase two of the ARC renovations resulted in the ARCafe. The front rooms of the ARC, which is an old house, were transformed from a small, ill-equipped kitchen and drab living area to a new coffee bar and vibrant, comfortable Internet cafe. The renovations were completed almost exclusively by student and volunteer labor, with largely donated, local materials. The bar features a recycled wood frame, granite counter tops sawn from island stone and hand polished by a student, and local cherry wood trim.

The cafe officially opened December 14 with card tables and folding chairs, but since then the ACCESS team has painted the main room in bold colors and has gathered sturdy tables, chairs and comfy sofas to make the cafe more welcoming. In addition, the cafe features one computer with free Internet access, though they hope to eventually have three or four. The ACCESS team, along with other students who frequent the cafe, have made the place their own by posting photos on one wall, and leaving friendly notes to each other on a white board on another wall.

The ARCafe is not only a teen center; community members of all ages, as well as civic groups, are encouraged to use the space for socializing and holding meetings and private parties. “A lot of people come and don’t buy anything,” said Jackson. “They understand there is no pressure, it’s not all about sales.”

In addition to hosting students and community members, the ARCafe serves another purpose as well; it is a place-based education project. The intention is for students to run the cafe, not only learning practical skills such as making coffee drinks and running a cash register, but also business skills such as how to keep books and pay taxes.

For now, Vinalhaven High School freshman Izza Drury is the only student who works at the cafe. (Other students are waiting for their work permits from the state before they can begin working.) Drury has worked one afternoon per week for the last month, and hopes to add hours once summer vacation begins. So far, she loves the job. “It is really, really fun,” she said. “I get to learn something I’ve never done before, so it’s a job, but it’s also an experience.” Drury says she has learned a lot about cafe equipment and its maintenance, as well as how to run a food service business, including making sure food is fresh and the quality is good. Drury has been an ACCESS team member from the beginning, and is very enthusiastic about the cafe. “It totally went above and beyond what I expected,” she said.

Annie Boyden, who was one of the ARC’s original founders back in the early 1980s, is also pleased with the ARC’s new success. “I’m very, very happy that there’s new energy there,” she said. “It is reaching out to the community on different levels; that was always the dream.”

Jackson has a general philosophy regarding students: “Give kids the space, a green light and a little support, and they’ll do amazing things,” he said. It seems that in the case of the ARC, the students-with a little help-have pulled off an amazing rebirth of this community mainstay.