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UP CLOSE: Youth center director helps keep officer’s dream alive

November 5, 2015
By TOM SALITSKY ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The "thud" of a ball hitting a backboard and the "swoosh" as it falls through the net; the "crack" of a cue-ball breaking up a clean rack; the sudden echoes of quick footsteps and spontaneous laughter that seem to happen so often at a gathering of the young. These are the sounds of the Shipman Youth Center, and Interim Director Jason Hooker knows them well.

The Shipman Youth Center is a nonprofit community organization providing support to children and youth ages 10 to 18. The center was inspired by Thomas Shipman, a designated Lake Placid youth police officer who died unexpectedly in 1995.

The center was built with community donations of money, materials and labor.

Article Photos

Jason Hooker, interim director of the Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid
(News photo — Tom Salitsky)

During the school year, it is open Mondays from 2 to 6 p.m. and from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Since 1999, Hooker said, the center has provided services to hundreds of children.

"We do a lot of sports outside for the kids," he said. "We have a pool table, video games. Kids watch TV on another separate TV. We're finishing up a high school room.

"We have a computer room and a little study area for kids to go and do homework in there. We have a gym where I'm hoping in the future, we can provide some dances. We've done sit-down dinners in there."

Hooker, who lives in Wilmington with his wife Laura and their two sons, has worked at the center for nearly a decade, first as assistant director, and then, after former Director Jon Fremante's resignation in the summer, interim director, although, like many who find their way to the Adirondacks, that wasn't always his plan.

"I'm from Rochester," he said. "I went to Paul Smith's College, actually, to get a Forest Rec degree to then move out West. I met my wife and ended up staying in the region up here."

During Hooker's decade at Shipman, he's seen many youths mature into young adults, including Serina Hayes, a 20-year-old Lake Placid resident who frequented the center when she was younger and now works part-time as its youth coordinator.

"It was a pretty good foundation," Hayes said of her time at the center. "When I came here, under Jon, it was mostly just girls, with one or two boys. It's picked up a lot."

Hooker said he sees about 20 to 30 kids a day at the center, although he said there have been as many as 37 at times. He said most of the students who frequent the center are in middle school, although he is trying to attract more high school students.

"I have a high school room, so I'm hoping I can retain some of the high schoolers now," he said. "The middle schoolers that we've had in the past, they tend to move on because of sports and jobs and the maturity gap that's here."

Hooker said the center depends on fundraisers and donations to operate. He said the center partners with Randy Quayle's Red Fox Maple to sell maple syrup. It runs an annual appeal to drive donations, he said, and a youth from the center designs and hangs a hand-made tile on the center's entrance wall to honor donors' generosity.

Their largest fundraiser, however, is a little saucier.

"The big thing that we do every year is our barbecue fest," he said. "We put on an I Love BBQ Festival centered on the Fourth of July weekend, and we get upwards of 20 to 30 different barbecue teams.

"It brings in a lot of traffic in conjunction with the horse show."

Hooker said the center provides its charges with a safe, fun environment.

"I've always been anti-drinking, anti-smoking, anti-bullying," he said. "When I was younger, with my last name, 'Hooker,' I got bullied a lot. I heard a lot of it.

"When kids come in here, they can tell me their problems and I can try and offer some sort of advice. They can have refuge from alcohol and drugs, which are prevalent in the culture up here.

"Hopefully, I'll continue to build upon the positive community wellness that we have."

Hooker said he encourages creativity and self-reliance in the youths who frequent the center, and he hopes to provide them with more fundraising and volunteer opportunities.

"I want to try to build on some fundraising ideas we've had that kind of fizzle out throughout the years, get the kids more involved," he said. "If they want something, I want them to have to earn it so they have some ownership of this place.

"I know the high schoolers want to put a TV in with a video game system in the high school room, and they're going to hopefully come to me with a fundraising idea to hopefully get that. I don't want to just hand it to them and say, 'Here you go.'"

Hooker said the center typically runs two bigger trips a year: one to Great Escape, and one to a destination of educational or cultural significance. Hooker said he hopes to begin offering smaller trips to dedicated volunteers as a reward for their efforts.

"I'm hoping to do smaller, monthly trips where I can get kids to hopefully help out with volunteering around here, and, in turn, on a Saturday or Sunday, I would take them out to Albany or Plattsburgh or Burlington or Watertown, different places that would be a day trip where they could hopefully get out of the area because there are plenty of kids who have never been to Albany in this community," he said.

Hooker stressed that the center is free and open to all, and he said anyone thinking of visiting should feel comfortable doing so.

"Don't hesitate to come on in and check out the place," he said. "They're always welcome."

Hooker said the center is currently seeking volunteers. Interested parties should contact the center at 518-523-8786 or visit the Facebook page.



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