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Last updateThu, 20 Jun 2019 12am







    Wednesday, June 19, 2019-4:43:14P.M.






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FEATURE | The Tinian Teen Center, victim of Typhoon Yutu

TINIAN — Yutu, the strongest typhoon in years to hit United States soil, brought sadness and suffering to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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Volunteers help build the Tinian Teen Center in 2016.
Volunteer Karen Lagunay helps paint the Tinian Teen Center in 2016.
Bruce Blanton, bottom left, and the teen center volunteers with Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas.
Bruce Blanton and the teen center volunteers at The Shack on Saipan.
The Tinian Teen Center booth at the 2016 Tinian Hot Pepper Festival.
The Tinian Teen Center volunteers leave their “marks” on the newly built stage.
The Tinian Teen Center volunteers build a brick oven.  Contributed file photos

Many people lost small items, such as clothing, shoes, or their bags, while others lost bigger objects, including their homes, cars, and even businesses. Bruce Castro Blanton, a victim of Typhoon Yutu, is one of the numerous people who have lost valuable items. In his case, the Tinian Teen Center. 

During his first year of teaching at Tinian Junior Senior High School, Mr. Blanton created the idea for the teen center for his online master’s degree program as his final project. The teen center was not the first vision he had in mind. “At first I was just going to open a small coffee shop with open mics on the weekends because I had shipped all the kitchen, studio and sports equipment from Hawaii when my wife and I moved here,” said Mr. Blanton.

   Over time, he noticed that many of the youth would try drugs and alcohol whenever they were bored, and go to school either high or drunk. He met with some of the students and discussed a drug-free zone for teens. “I felt it was what the students needed and it was my passion to help create and shape it,” he added. So he and the students worked on making the teen center a reality.

   As the adviser of an after-school music club, he put together a band called “A Natural High.” However, the high school principal at the time was opposed to the name because he thought there it implied drug-use. The principal told the band that they were not allowed to practice in school unless the name was changed. Mr. Blanton, eager to keep the name, refused to change it, but they needed to find a place to continue practicing. Fortunately, they found a location beside the Little League baseball field in April 2016, but they started fundraising in February 2016 for rent and utilities. The team learned how to cook and make fruit smoothies to sell in the Hot Pepper Festival that year. According to Mr. Blanton, “Lots of students worked every day after school and all day on the weekends, often times very late into the night and early morning. It took about two months to get everything in line to be able to open our doors to the public.”

After all the nights staying up late and all the hard work, the Tinian Teen Center finally opened on June 3, 2016, the last day of school which was somewhat a rite of passage for students, many of whom were pressured to drink and/or smoke marijuana for the first time. The Tinian Teen Center decided to conduct a free concert to those who were drug-free or wanted to end their unhealthy habits.

 “Before the typhoon, we were doing great,” stated Mr. Blanton. He and his volunteers invested so much into the teen center and hoped it would last for a long time. Many of the volunteers were working with so much effort and they were getting better every day. They were about to receive help from the local government and they also planned to apply for grants to help get paid positions. The teen center was even reaching out to people on Saipan who were interested in expanding their business and opening a Saipan Teen Center. The Tinian team found interested individuals, but that plan did not materialize. “If we ever find the right person or persons, we would love to help them create similar teen centers on Saipan, Rota and hopefully even on Guam,” Mr. Blanton said.

Unfortunately, Typhoon Yutu  brought him and his team back to where they started. “During the eye of the typhoon,” Mr. Blanton said, “I went across the street from my house to check on the teen center and then I saw the roof had blown off and I couldn’t believe it.” He found his instruments drenched and everything else was also damaged.

The destruction of the teen center left everyone, especially Mr. Blanton, heartbroken. The instruments he had been collecting for 20 years, the machinery and paperwork, and most importantly, all the hard work and dedication put into this project were lost. He has met with the owner of the place, but because there was so much damage, he was told that the owner was not able to fix it up.

Sadly, the Tinian Teen Center is officially closed due to the damage and Mr. Blanton and his wife, Mrs. Reena Blanton, will be leaving the island.

After the typhoon, Mr. Blanton went around looking for a new location for the teen center, but despite finding a great place, he and his team realized that they themselves still needed to recover from the disaster. “Everyone really just need to focus on their own homes and families first before we focus on bringing the teen center back to life,” Mr. Blanton said. He and his wife plan to return to the island after two years to hopefully rebuild the teen center.

The overall goal for the Tinian Teen Center was to provide the youth of Tinian better and fun things to do, and take away their attention from things that could harm their future. The Tinian Teen Center was an alcohol- and drug-free zone that gave the youth options that are far better than drugs and other toxins. The Tinian Teen Center was a place that united the young people of the Tinian community and helped them stay safe and focused on their goals. Having only one teen center, of course, won’t fix teenage drug problem, but it will help the community and especially the youth realize that we can’t just sit around and wait for a solution to come to us. “We must be the change that we want to see in this world and we must first believe that we are fully capable of making this happen if we really put our hearts, minds and souls into everything we do and work from a sense of true compassion for each other,” Mr. Blanton said.

For two years, many of Tinian’s youth volunteered and showed up at the teen center. Many of the volunteers included students from Tinian Junior Senior High School and the Tinian JROTC Stallion Battalion cadets.

Mr. Blanton himself never hesitated to assist the school and the Stallion Battalion whenever help was needed.

“Thank you Mr. Blanton for the experience, the laughs, the love that you gave us, the life lessons, the sacrifices that you have made for us, and for bringing us together,” said C/LTC Jovilyn Ancheta, Stallion Battalion commander and former volunteer at the Tinian Teen Center.

“You’ve been spending a lot of your time at TTC, forgetting to take breaks and forgetting to spend time with your wife. We know that you love Tinian and TTC, and we make you happy. However, perhaps it’s time that you think about yourself too. Go and pursue your dreams and live a happy life with your beautiful wife and baby to come. We’ll always be here if you need us. Tinian is always here for you guys. We truly love and will miss you guys!”

Thank you to everyone who has contributed into the making of the Tinian Teen Center and for giving their time to the youth. A big thank you especially to Mr. Bruce Blanton for producing an amazing place for the kids and teens of Tinian. Mr. Blanton, you have truly given a lot to the community and shared lessons that have impacted countless lives and helped each individual grow. Everyone absolutely appreciates what you and everyone else have done to better the youth, to keep them safe, free from danger, drugs and alcohol. The people will not forget the work you put in for the youth and we will continue to do our best in what we do and to share the positivity made possible by the teen center.

Said Mr. Blanton, “I hope that the seeds that have been planted here on Tinian continue to grow throughout the islands so our people will continue to be kind to one another and help each other to become happy, healthy and honest people for generations to come.”