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Jenna Ogden: Helping the kids

By Carrie Schmelkin

Nicole Kerry sits at a kitchen room table talking with friends.

Some teenagers work on their homework, but most gossip about their weekends. Others are playing foosball and pool.

Jenna Ogden, the director of this drop-in after school teen center, walks from child to child, stopping to catch up specifically with 16-year old Kerry.

"This place has changed my outlook," Kerry said. "I don't know what I would be doing if I didn't come here."

Ogden runs this CanTeen Program, a place in Cicero where high school teenagers can stop by after school. Started in 1999, the program is free for teenagers and supported by the state, nearby towns and local donations, Ogden said.

The center creates a haven where teenagers can hang out with friends, complete homework, talk to adults about problems and possibly form lasting relationships that will change their outlooks on life, Ogden said.

"It's total interaction with the kids -- finding out why they are upset, why they are in a good mood and trying to get to the nitty-gritty stuff," she said. "It's trying to get to know them a little more so they will come back and have a relationship with someone."

Each day, 30-45 teenagers from the North Syracuse Central School District stop by. The CanTeen program also serves family dinners on Thursdays, holds talent shows on Fridays and hosts several trips throughout the year. They've camped out, gone to baseball games and caught the sights in New York City.

"We are a totally teen-run program, so it's not like the adults say 'Let's do something,'" Ogden said. "They [the teens] are in charge of everything that goes on."

Ogden has directed the CanTeen program for a year and a half but started working with kids while attending Cicero-North Syracuse High School. For six summers she worked for Cicero's Parks and Recreation Department's youth program for kids ages 5 to 13.

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