Great Falls Rocks!

Great Falls Rocks!

Junior Optimists hold first Teen Center party at Forestville Elementary.

For the next Great Falls Teen Center party, Lipi Gupta plans to focus on getting the word out to as many people as possible.

"My biggest goal for the next event is publicity so people are more aware," said Gupta, 17, president of Langley High School's Junior Optimists Club.

Despite having a mere two weeks to prepare for the first Great Falls Teen Center party, members of the Junior Optimists Club were fairly pleased with the turnout. The event — "Great Falls Rocks!" — was held Friday, Sept. 22 in the Forestville Elementary School cafeteria, from 8-11 p.m., and was open to local students in grades 7-10. Members of Langley's Junior Optimists Club hope to have monthly Teen Center events geared toward bringing young teenagers together in a safe environment. Last week's party featured a DJ and provided snacks and soda.

GUPTA SAID one of the challenges she faced some of the freshmen and sophomores she approached were skeptical about attending a party with seventh and eighth graders.

"A lot of the older kids asked me if there would be little kids there, but I'm not really sure yet how to deal with that because part of the idea is that we are interested in bringing the little kids together with the big kids so that the little kids can have someone to look up to, and the big kids can show the little kids how to have fun," said Gupta. "So I don't know how we're going to do it yet, but we have try and make it cooler."

Since McLean has the Old Firehouse Teen Center, members of the Junior Optimists Club were inspired to create a similar type of venue for the Great Falls area. Great Falls does not have a comparable Teen Center facility, and Gupta said some students complained to her that the Great Falls Teen Center parties are being held in an elementary school.

"They asked why it was in an elementary school and thought that was kind of lame, so we're going to have to look into what other options we might have," said Gupta.

DESPITE THESE OBSTACLES, most of the students who attended Friday night's event had positive feedback about the party. Emily Lowman, 13, said that she thought the space was better than the Old Firehouse Teen Center in McLean.

"I went there once, but this is a little better because the Old Firehouse is small so everyone is pushed into one space," said Lowman, an eighth grade student at Cooper Middle School.

Lowman's friend Emily Follin, also 13, agreed with her.

"You can get a lot of people in here, so it's easier to dance and talk," said Follin, also an eighth grade student at Cooper Middle School .

Both girls think that it is a good idea to provide a venue for students in their age range.

"It's good," said Follin. "If I weren't here I would just go to the movies and hang out with my friends."

Garrett Pan, 12, said the party needed more people.

"They shouldn't let people in until a certain amount, like maybe let everyone in once there are 30 people," said Pan, a seventh grade student at Landon School. "It would be a lot more interesting that way."

His friend Nick Rifken, 12, said the party was "pretty good," but agreed that more people would help the atmosphere.

"When there's not that many people it's kind of pointless to dance," said Rifken, a seventh grade student at Kilmer.

THE JUNIOR OPTIMISTS CLUB will be taking student feedback into account when planning future parties. Evan Braff, Division Supervisor for the Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services, is helping the Junior Optimists Club to coordinate the Teen Center events, but says that they must be in charge of deciding how to make them fun.

"I've been doing this for 12 years and the kids have to do this," said Braff. "If they don't build this and it's not theirs, they won't come."

Junior Optimists Club vice president Tanvi Avasthi, 17, said that the two-week time constraint put some limitations on the initial party, but future events will feature more activities.

"We had to get everything coordinated, and it was kind of hard to get everyone to come together because the school year had just started," said Avasthi, a junior at Langley. "I think we are going to have a student band next time, and maybe some fund-raiser activities like a dance-off."