How to keep teens safer? This Anchorage group says the solution starts with Friday nights.

Players on the court at the Mountain View Community Center. (File photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

It’s a Friday night in Anchorage and the gym at the Mountain View Boys and Girls Club is teaming with teenagers — playing basketball, watching from the sidelines and chatting with friends in the bleachers.

The gathering is part of Project Mary’s Rose, a grassroots youth movement that began blooming across East Anchorage earlier this year. 

“The whole objective really is on Friday nights to have kids here, safe, where they can express themselves positively,” said 20-year-old Joey Barranco.

Barranco, a local graduate and student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, planted the seeds with his teammate, Simeon Bearden, 19. As teenagers growing up in Anchorage, they noticed something was missing: consistency. 

Research illustrates the powerful positive impact regular extracurricular activities can have on teens’ well-being, from academic performance to social engagement. Meanwhile, at the neighborhood community center, managers say there aren’t a lot of consistent, organized options for young people looking for somewhere to go on a Friday night. 

Could more fun, safe spaces change teens’ lives for the better? Bearden and Barranco wanted to do something about it, they said. With the support of friends and teammates and mentors, Project Mary’s Rose was born. 

It’s named in honor of Barranco’s mother, he said, and they picture a multi-platform outlet for young people to learn life skills and express themselves via sports, art, music and more. 

The movement’s first open gym night took place in August. They expected around 20 teens to attend. More than 60 showed up, they said. The next event, in September, began with pizza and a movie and ended with an appearance by Anchorage motivational speaker Donteh DeVoe. Then, in October, Project Mary’s Rose partnered with another neighborhood teen club to host a fundraiser basketball tournament.

They say this is just the beginning; there’s more to come. They want to eventually meet weekly, and offer even more ways for young people to grow and express themselves, on and off the court. That’s the important part, Bearden said.

“We just want to keep doing events and keep letting the kids know that we are here for them,” he said.

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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