By Denise Bohn
5:23 PM EST, February 21, 2013
A Benton Harbor after-school program has issued an ultimatum – stop fighting or be locked out.
For the past several months fights have turned up on the internet – Benton Harbor High School kids fighting as their school day ends.
Benton Harbor Police say one fight in January resulted in some 50 students being suspended or expelled.
But the new Boys & Girls Club Benton Harbor Teen Center, located on Empire Avenue directly across from the high school, is trying to help.
On an average weeknight more than 100 kids walk through the doors into the Center. It got up and running in September and is supposed to be a safe place for students after school.
Everywhere you turn in the Teen Center there are kids.
Kids playing games, like pool and ping pong, kids on computers, and kids eating a free hot meal.
There's even a huge 9,000-square-foot gymnasium.
On Wednesday night basketball teams made up of high schoolers battled it out with a crowd of more than 50 students watching.
"We are open to give kids alternatives to the streets," said John Howard, Teen Center unit director
Howard says for teens to join the after-school program they have to meet certain requirements: Be in high school, fill out an application, pay a $5 annual membership fee and most importantly – stay out of trouble.¿
"You can't have gangs. You can't have drugs. You can't have kids who are out there creating havoc and coming here," explains Howard.
He re-emphasized those rules after a big fight in January just outside the building. Only a few of the center's 265 members were involved.
"We are much more than the fights and the violence," stresses Jasminka Newbern, a junior at Benton Harbor High. "We actually have students at Benton Harbor High School that like to learn, me being one."
Newbern says the new Teen Center has been motivation for students to straighten up.
"Since it's been here things have changed with the students and how they act," she said.
Derwin Perry has been involved in the program for 10 years. He says the Center has pulled kids off the streets and given them hope for a better future.
"We teach them they come here, this is a place for you to advance," Perry said.
A place for fun, but also academics. An entire wing of the building is dedicated to an educational program called, "Diplomas to Degrees," encouraging students to go to college.
"Of course I'm going to college," stresses Chavius Snerling, a junior and regular at the Center.
"It's very important. It's another place to go so you don't have to be on the street."
And for Howard, keeping kids off the streets, away from the fights, is key.
"If you respect young people, if you give them a chance, if you're willing to go the extra mile for young people, then they want to be a part of what you've got," he said.
Since Howard warned the kids to stay away from fighting, he says no one has been banned from the Center.
Some students are even planning a Peace Rally in April in an effort to encourage students to not fight.
Along with the Teen Center, there's also a new Boys and Girls Youth Center in Benton Harbor.
Both facilities opened last year and cost a total of $7.4 million.
Joel Smilow, the retired CEO of Playtex, funded most of the Teen Center. He is a huge supporter of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and heard Benton Harbor needed the Center badly.
The Whirlpool Corporation contributed some money for the Teen Center and most of the funds needed for the Youth Center, which has a membership of more than 500 elementary-aged students.
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