SARANAC LAKE - Diane Roberts says she has the experience and the commitment to help rejuvenate the Saranac Lake Youth Center.
The 55-year-old, who was hired as the center's new director Oct. 1, initially got involved with the youth center as a volunteer earlier this year. She and her husband recently moved back to Saranac Lake after being away for 25 years.
"I was just enjoying being semi-retired, and I read that the youth center needed volunteers," she said. "I knew I had the experience and enjoyed working with teenagers, so I decided to volunteer."
Diane Roberts, new director of the Saranac Lake Youth Center, stands inside the center’s new location, at the corner of Woodruff and Church streets, on Wednesday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Roberts says she's been working with teenagers for most of her career. A graduate of North Country Community College, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Plattsburgh, where she received a master's degree in counseling, Roberts has worked as an adolescent and family therapist in psychiatric facilities - both hospital-based and residential - in several states.
She left Saranac Lake in 1983 when her husband's job at the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid was transferred to Houston. Since then, Roberts said they've lived in Santa Fe, N.M., Kansas City and Wichita, Kan., and most recently Virginia.
But Roberts said she always wanted to come back to Saranac Lake.
The public is invited to meet Diane Roberts at a reception at the youth center from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21.
"This town has a special quality we did not find in other places we lived," she said. "We were able to put our plan into effect this past year and return home."
Roberts started volunteering at the SLYC in March, three months after its most recent director, Michael Scaringe Jr., was arrested for allegedly raping a teenager who frequented the facility. The youth center, which was then located in a small storefront on Broadway next to the Saranac Lake Adult Center, was also in a financial crisis. Its board didn't have enough money to open the facility or hire a new director, and it couldn't get money from its funding sources without showing that it was operating.
After reaching out to the community for help, new volunteers came forward and the board reopened the youth center on a volunteer basis. A fundraising appeal was launched, and the decision was made to relocate the center to the corner of Woodruff and Church streets.
The center's board began the search or a new director in September and received several applications, according to Doug Zobel, board president. He said Roberts, who had already been involved with the youth center, was a perfect fit.
"Diane offers a lot to us and the youth of the community," he said. "She has experience working with teens and had a strong interest in the job. Most importantly, she really enjoys it. This is a job where she feels like she can make a difference."
Zobel said Roberts also understood the center's financial struggles. The inability to offer a competitive salary and benefits in recent years has led to high turnover in the director position.
For now, Roberts is working part-time, 30 hours a week, at $15 per hour. After Jan.1, Zobel said they'd like to make the position full-time with benefits "if we're able to make it happen." Roberts was also subjected to a background check before she was hired, Zobel added.
Roberts said pay and benefits weren't big issues for her.
"The salary isn't as important or as necessary to me as it might be to someone trying to raise a family," she said. "I'm here because I want to be here."
Roberts also said she's aware of the center's recent struggles, but "all I can do is go forward and say what we would like the youth center to become."
"We hope to create a place where teenagers can come and have fun in an appropriate way; a place where they can learn new skills, meet new friends and try new things so they can feel confident about themselves," Roberts said. "We'd also like to do a lot of community-service things with the kids, give them different opportunities to interact with people in the community."
Roberts said the center's new location, which includes a pool table, ping-pong table, video game room and plenty of space for activities, has been a big hit among the teenagers. About eight to 10 teens have been visiting the center each day, she said.
"We've gotten a lot of comments from kids that it's like a home," she said. "They're very respectful of it. They keep it clean and neat. I think they appreciate the fact that we value them enough to put all the work into this new location."
The youth center is on more solid financial ground than it was before, thanks to donations from local residents and civic groups in the community, Roberts added.
"The community has really responded," she said.