Jennifer Montanaro: A new force to propel to Depot to success
Jennifer Montanaro may be relatively new to the Depot, Darien's youth center, but the newly appointed executive director has made strides in the past year to reach out to more of Darien's kids, and she is thrilled.
What started as a way to relieve some of the duties of Janice Marzano, the Depot's program director, turned into more responsibilities and eventually some office space in the caboose on the far end of the building for Montanaro. The executive director is a new position at the Depot.
"I just started to volunteer and said, `Let me help you. How can I help you?' " said Montanaro, referring to Marzano, who she said was sending out emails at all hours of the night and would be at the Depot early the next morning. Montanaro started offering all the help she could and eventually found herself as Marzano's assistant handling the middle school programs.
She and Marzano worked together to bring more programs to the Depot to attract the middle schoolers to the facility.
"Some were great, some weren't," Montanaro said. "But it really got the word out to some of the parents."
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Parents are crucial in encouraging their children to go to the Depot, Montanaro said.
At that point, the need for an administrative director became apparent. Much of the grant writing and other administrative tasks were falling upon the shoulders of the parent volunteers, who come and go, according to Montanaro.
"Everyone comes in with new sets of thoughts and ideas, so nothing was staying consistent because there's always a learning curve," Montanaro said.
For now, staff at the Depot is brainstorming on developing new programs and ways to make the Depot more desirable for middle and high schoolers by offering programs such as Zumba, potential baby-sitting classes and leadership initiatives for boys.
During the week, programs like Students Against Destructive Decisions, bake sales and meetings of the Student Governing Board of the Depot take place.
On weekends, the Depot turns into a different sort of hangout place for students, with events like karaoke, band or poker nights, and "raves" for the high schoolers.
"There's always something going on," Montanaro said. "Our demographic has changed, the way kids spend their time has changed, so we have to be more fluid and modern to keep up with what kids want."
But making the Depot more attractive to the teens it serves isn't the only part of bringing crowds of students through the old ticket station doors.
"It's been called the teen center for so long that parents may not know the resource that's here," Montanaro said. The Depot recently went through a rebranding, changed from the "teen center" to the "youth center."
She added that it's difficult to reach out to middle school students directly because they may not have email or social media accounts, and staff at the Depot rely on the parents to encourage their children to come to the center.
For Montanaro, she would like to see the Depot, which just received some interior renovations, to be a place for students to come and hang out.
Throughout the building are places to sit and socialize -- booths in the grill area where teens can buy all sorts of things to eat, and another room where a pool table is set up.
Through another set of doors are more couches positioned in front of a TV that is framed by game consoles.
"I would really like to see that it's 2:30 p.m., the doors are open, the lights over the griddle are on and kids are just coming in having something to eat, playing basketball, playing games with each other, just making this their meeting point," Montanaro said.
The Depot, 25 Heights Road, is open from 2:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturdays.