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'Upper Room' Marks 4 Years of Giving Kids Freedom — and Safety

The Saturday hangout is a safe place for youth.

Four years ago, Doug Barnes made an idea a reality for Rochester-area teens.

He started a hangout for middle schoolers and high schoolers looking for fun without drugs or alcohol.

His motivation is partly personal: His own brother died in a drunken-driving accident in his early 20s, and Barnes said he has witnessed the effects of drugs and alcohol among youth and his family.

But the absence of alcohol is not what defines the group. The club, called The Upper Room, is designed to be a relaxed environment where kids from different schools can socialize and have fun.

"The cross interactions between kids from all over is one of the things that they enjoy the most," said Barnes, a dad of four from Rochester Hills.

What they do

Barnes said the atmosphere is designed to be relaxed and less restrictive than school or home — to allow kids to be themselves while having volunteer monitors to supervise and assure parents that nothing gets out of hand.

"A lot of the kids like it because they feel they can be on their own and not have their parents watching them the whole time," he said. "The parents like it because there will be adults supervising."

Activities include outdoor field games, video games and movies. They also have food and refreshments.

Barnes said they provide "good food" and "bad food." On the bad side: pizza, gummy worms and cake. On the good side: fruits, vegetables and sandwiches.

The club has has about 15 youth staff members who help plan activities, set up and clean up; attendance averages about 60 youth each Saturday night at the in Rochester. Each meeting costs $5, which pays for food and refreshments.

Where kids can be themselves

Michael MacGregor has attended The Upper Room regularly for a little over two years. The 13-year-old said he loves how relaxed the Saturday nights are. He fondly remembers watching Final Four matches and the large second anniversary party, complete with a dunk tank, a bounce house and a snow cone machine.

MacGregor said he takes comfort in having time to relax, even beyond the excitement of the different activities. He can be himself at The Upper Room, unlike school, where he rarely has classes with friends and can only speak with them during three-minute passing periods, or at home, with family.

"Sometimes I just feel like I need to get out," he said. "Sometimes, I need to be with friends over family."

Barnes said he got the idea for the group when he attended a seminar in West Virginia as a part of Rochester PRIDE (Parents, Resources and Drug Education). The presentation advocated providing kids a place to hang out in an alcohol-free and drug-free environment, and, according to Barnes, the idea stuck with him.

He said he is especially proud of the club for lasting four years and expects it to be around for some time. He sees it as an improvement over the lack of activities offered when he was growing up in Rochester and likes to think the group empowers the kids to make good choices.

"I don’t recall there was much of anything," Barnes said. "We were left to our own devices."

The Upper Room meets every Saturday from 7-10:30 p.m. at the in Rochester. To attend a gathering, download the registration form on the group's website, www.RochesterUpperRoom.com.

Doug Barnes August 13, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Thanks for the great article. The 15 teen staff members help decide which activities and events Upper Room should offer, as well as being responsible for the set-up and clean-up each week. Upper Room has averaged over 60 middle and high schoolers each week for 2011.
Kristin Bull (Editor) August 13, 2011 at 08:04 PM
Those 60 kids are really lucky to have such a great weekly destination, Doug. What a great thing you are doing for kids in our town.

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