Gateway Mountain Center’s Youth Wellness Center in Truckee should be bustling with as many as 30 chattering high schoolers on any given day after school. But like virtually every other aspect of life, the March grand opening was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven months after GMC representatives gave Moonshine Ink a tour of their new facility, spending over two hours sharing the services that would be offered to youth of all backgrounds, from around the North Tahoe area, the Youth Wellness Center finally opened its doors at the beginning of October. With the easing of government-mandated COVID restrictions, youth who wish to have a safe, welcoming space to go after school now have a destination.
“We are so excited about this center and the potential of it,” said founder and executive director Peter Mayfield, who started GMC 14 years ago.
4Roots Wellness program director Nancy Minges sees the YWC as a place where teens can come to regroup and connect with themselves, peer support, well-trained wellness educators, or simply take a time out for self-care. With that intent, she’s created a collection of sensory experiences that will nourish their minds and souls.
“We have learned a great deal from youth who have faced extremely hard challenges and from those lessons we’ve identified offerings that can help all youth,” Minges told Moonshine Ink. “At the root of things, how we build resilience, grit, and learn to heal are universal practices we can all study and support each other in.”
The mission of the center is to help youth of all backgrounds learn, heal, and thrive. Although the YWC is open to all youth of high school age, Gateway recognizes the special opportunity to reach and support those who are considered “high risk.” Gateway defines high risk youth as: youth who are highly impacted by adverse childhood experiences, poverty, multi-generational substance use disorders, immigration status, traumatic exposure, difficult family situations, learning difficulties, anxiety, or depression.
Mayfield stressed that these issues don’t discriminate by race, gender, or economic status but are found in all demographics.
“Kids who had healthy childhoods, with relatively smaller challenges, certainly can have challenges or get involved in drugs, but the kids who are more likely to have substance abuse problems are kids who needed more connection than circumstances allowed,” he explained. “And you can’t assume things around class either. There are many families with means in which the children are also stressed and depressed, or experience substance abuse problems.”
Although Gateway got the go-ahead to open, the YWC will be operating at a limited capacity and, of course, following stringent guidelines for COVID-19 health and safety. Rather than being open five days a week after school to about 30 kids, the center is currently open Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1 to 6 p.m., with a max of around eight at a time. Gateway maintains a schedule and calendar of events for the YWC on their website sierraexperience.org.
“The Youth Wellness Center is open to everyone, and we are mindful of our intention to support youth of all backgrounds,” explained Mayfield, noting that its Meadow Way location was strategic in that many of the adolescents with whom Gateway already works are students of Sierra High School. An alternative path, Sierra High, according to its mission statement, provides individualized and personalized educational, emotional, and social developmental opportunities, increasing the likelihood that students who may otherwise struggle or fail in other more traditional environments will successfully complete their secondary education.
Alluding to a past report by the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, Mayfield noted that the incidence of drug abuse in the region is higher than the state average. This higher incidence of substance use creates a number of issues for our schools, systems of care, and families. Responding to these issues, the YWC is hosting a peer-led, weekly drop-in circle called Mindful Warriors that is dedicated to offering support and tools for facing personal battles, whether they be in recovery, or in actualizing consciousness, self-knowledge, and healing. MBSAT (Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment) cohorts are offered several times a year, with a new cohort starting in a few weeks.
Throughout its 14 years, Gateway has received the support of organizations like the community foundation, Truckee Tahoe Airport District, Lahontan Community Foundation, Martis Camp Community Foundation, Epic Promise, and the Maxfield Foundation. Key funding for YWC programming is made possible through a grant from The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act — commonly known as Proposition 64.
Gateway has long offered projects through its Sierra Experience platform, which uses natural outdoor settings like Donner Summit to connect youth who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about nature, specifically forest ecology, natural science, mindfulness, and adventure. Despite the pandemic, Gateway held summer programs (although modified) and continues to do so with new groups called On Belay Adventure learning pods. The YWC will provide a safe space for youth to gather, and is offering many opportunities to choose from for discovering and strengthening their well-being or exploring their passions.
Downstairs is a common area for gathering and unwinding, with a sensory swing — which Mayfield says “feels like a cloth hug,” a smoothie station, couches, and zero-gravity beanbag-style chairs called Moon Pods. Upstairs, Minges created a self-guided stress reduction circuit course with seven different stations including things like sound healing bowls, chi machines, and non-violent communication cards, which help individuals sort out their needs and strengths.
“It has the elements of a high-end Sonoma spa that even teenage dudes with difficult backgrounds love,” Mayfield said, noting that the course went through beta testing with a group of teens. “We really did test it with these kids who were like,
‘Can I come back tomorrow and do that again?’ It was kind of amazing.”
For Mayfield, “The overall dream for the Youth Wellness Center is for it to become a hub of positive, relational connectedness, and not just for youth relating with each other, but also with really positive, caring and fun adults.”
“It always takes time to build, but in 14 years, we’ve really earned the trust and appreciation of youth,” Mayfield said. “Building upon those relationships, it wxill be great when a whole bunch of teenagers are in here sharing experiences, supporting each other’s growth, and enjoying themselves.”
To learn more about Gateway Mountain Center and its new Youth Wellness Center, visit sierraexperience.org.