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New Thomas Toy Community Center is work in progress
toy center
Several students enjoyed the comforts of the cozy game room during Friday’s open house, still a work in progress, with the actual opening scheduled to take place in September.

The new Thomas Toy Community Center is a few months away from opening.

However, students from the nearby school sites – in particular, Manteca High – had a chance to peruse the 8,000-square-foot structure on the southwest corner of Fremont and Yosemite avenues during Friday’s open house.

“Not bad,” said Bob Raymus, who is among the community members making the project happen.

The goal is to provide a safe place to help teens make connections, interact, grow, learn, and serve in a person-to-person setting and not the virtual reality disconnected connected world of the Internet populated with avatars.

It is on target to start serving teens in the seventh through 12th grade in a limited fashion this summer as it is scaled up to be open five days a week during the upcoming school year.

The transformation of the building is well underway.

There will be two banks of phone lockers where up to 72 phones can be secured — and charged — while teens are on the premises.

Those making use of the lockers will get credits for free food and drinks at the cafe that will serve as the heart of the teen center.

Designed as a gathering spot with a heavy dose of the feel of a Starbucks — the Seattle-based coffee chain is actually helping with furnishings and equipment — the cafe is where teens can replace virtual interactions with the real thing.

There will be a small stage for anything that brings teens together.

Musical performances, karaoke, poetry slams, and such.

It could be a place where common interest groups from chess enthusiasts to gamers hang out in a real room instead of a chat room.

That is in addition to being a safe place for teens to drop in and spend times with friends and even make new friends.

The cafe, just like the rest of the building, is designed to feed more than just stomachs and existing interests.

It will exist to be able to organize hands on activities led by volunteers to learn things such as how to repair skateboards, bicycles, and cars to art, how to play the guitar and much more in various rooms designed for such endeavors.

The cavernous space originally built to accommodate  a newspaper press and then repurposed to serve as a place of worship is being prepped to serve as the ultimate “teen cave.”

There will be the usual foosball an air hockey tables available.

But the main goal is to have a versatile space

While the goal is to foster healthier relationships and prepare youth to handle life’s challenges in a real setting and not on the Internet, the teen center does embrace social media that often is at the center of a teen’s existence in 2024.

And it does so in a big way.

The center includes a media production room with stepped up soundproofing that will feature four microphones and four headsets.

It will have the equipment needed to produce podcasts as well as create other social media content.

There is an art room equipped with a sink that can be used for multiple endeavors.

In addition, there is a shop area that is designed to teach teens hands on mechanical skills.

The center will rely on community volunteers to share their knowledge whether it is changing car oil or playing the guitar among a host of possibilities.