Natasha Prime – Origin & Future of The Place

Co-Founders honored at City Council as The Place becomes The Teen Center

PHOTO: | Natasha Prime

The City Council honored both Natasha Prime and Nick Taylor for creating and sustaining The Place, a non-profit teen center in South Pasadena, for the past 7 years. Prime and Taylor made the difficult decision to turn the reins over to the city where it will be run by Lucy Hakobian and rec center staff and called The Teen Center.

Mayor Cacciotti presented Prime and Taylor with Certificates of Appreciation and told the crowd about how Prime came to the council in 2010 to express a need for a place where teens could come who perhaps didn’t have a club or organized sport to play but still needed a place where they could socialize with other teens in the afternoons. The Mayor thanked them for their “dedicated commitment, hundreds of hours, your passion for helping youth development, fostering increased engagement by providing The Place, at Orange Grove Park, a safe space for teenagers to grow into socially and emotionally healthy adults.”

Prime thanked her great team, “my partner, Nick, who was there from the beginning. I’m grateful that the program will live on and I’m very grateful for your support over the years, as are the kids of South Pas.”

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Council Member Bob Joe said, “if people could meet the young people there; it’s a wonderful experience and a testament to what you have done that hopefully we can continue.”

PHOTO: | Mayor Michael Cacciotti presents Ceertificates of Appreciation from the City of South Pasadena to Nick Taylor and Natasha Prime for their 7 years service at The Place.

We spoke to Natasha Prime about the genesis and evolution of The Place a couple of days after the presentation. Prime is a social and emotional counselor at SPHS and was laid off for a period of time in 2009. During that time the idea for The Place came to her as she realized there was a gap that we, as a community, was not filling, which was providing a place where teens could come who perhaps were not involved in an organized sport or club. Her passion for working with young people led her to eventually create The Place. She went to the City Council, who, upon recognizing the need, gave her a space at the rec center on Orange Grove and a first two-year budget of $15,000.  She started The Place with Nick Taylor and Liz Price, who also have backgrounds in social work and counseling, in 2010. From the beginning Prime says, “I wanted to make sure it was youth driven; that it be something that they would be really invested and engaged in. We did focus groups asking them what they’d like to see there.”

Prime adds that former Council Member, David Sifuentes, was instrumental in making it happen because “he really saw the need and supported what I was trying to do.” Within two years, The Place became a non-profit and was funded through fundraising, donations and grants. Donations of a foosball table, pool table, air-hockey table, video games and couches made it a comfy, fun place to hang out; the teens themselves provided the camaraderie and the counselors provided interesting programming and always someone to talk to. Some of the programming included speakers, workshops, and activities but Prime is quick to point out that it wasn’t structured all the time and there was a lot of time to just “be”, which is, in her opinion, highly underrated these days.  In the meantime, Prime became re-employed at the high school so all the volunteers were juggling their jobs, lives and The Place.

“The broader goal was to foster a community where we would do some education and we had three basic philosophies; Unconditional positive regard which meant that any young person who walked through the door was worthy of our regard. Another one was harm reduction; as opposed to “just say no”, we had open dialogue about risky behaviors with the goal being to reduce harm. And we wanted to be “strength based” and focus on where their strengths are rather than their weaknesses.”

Prime was adamant that it be a free program. She explains, “there are plenty of “for fee programming” which also excludes a lot of kids. And we always had food; kids love food, teenagers love to eat. We had a girl who had never had a birthday cake so we had a big celebration for her with a cake and it was a momentous occasion for everyone.”

As she mentioned at the City Council Meeting, Prime is happy that the center will continue saying “the goal was to leave behind a self-sustaining program that didn’t depend on me. It took me a year or so to get to a place where I was okay knowing I had done the best I could and Sheila Pautsch took it to the council and it was approved with two paid staff.” Prime goes on to say “change is always hard but I want it to be successful because the whole point is to have a place for teenagers to go.”

The community is certainly a better place for the hard work and dedication of Natasha Prime, Nick Taylor, Liz Price and all those who volunteered at The Place over the past seven years. They are the reason we have a Teen Center in South Pasadena and I personally know many teens who have benefitted from their time spent there along with of course the hundreds who passed through their door. In fact, as we sat talking outside Kaldi, at least six teenagers stopped to chat with Prime. She is obviously beloved in town.  May the spirit of their work continue under the guidance of the Recreation department

The Teen Center is located at the mid-level of South Pasadena Recreation Center –  815 Mission Street. Contact Lucy Hakobian at (626) 403-7380

Hours are currently Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3:15pm-6pm. It is a free drop-in program geared towards 13-18 year-olds. The Teen Center is a safe place for teens to connect with one another, gain access to resources valuable to them, support and engage in learning different topics of interest, and volunteering opportunities that will reveal their strengths and interests while discovering their own identities and unique skills.