2:54 p.m. – It’s eerily silent for a weekday afternoon. Signs of life: lights, music and computers are fired up as the doors unlock. Time for teens at Chop’s.

3:01 p.m. — When those doors open, classrooms, halls, floors and courtyards come alive with laughter, music, art projects, training and study sessions, computer work and just plain hanging out. Chop’s Teen Club is an amazing gift given to middle and high school kids: a spacious, modern building holding the hopes, dreams and future promise of the many teenagers who are beginning to arrive, greeting one another and the dedicated staff, laughing and bursting with energy. Each shows their membership card at the door, having paid just $1 per year to belong.

When you were a kid, could you have imagined your own private club? A club where you’re always welcome, always learning, accepted and recognized for just who you are? Or having to choose from jamming in the recording studio, gossiping at the espresso bar, striving at the climbing wall, joining a basketball game, getting real-life on-the-job training, having your creativity unleashed in the art studio, computer time in the tech room – or any one of 23 programs in seven activity areas. Wow! Why don’t we have this for adults?

Chop’s was made reality in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square in 2001 through the generosity of a quiet, respected Santa Rosa attorney who grew up in the then-mostly Italian family neighborhood. In 1995 Charles DeMeo left the bulk of his estate to Community Foundation Sonoma County with instructions to create a safe and productive place for teens. Public meetings and teen surveys fed into the plans. DeMeo’s nickname — “Chop” — was a natural for the club’s name: Chop’s Teen Club. Chop DeMeo’s bequest means this unique teen club is guaranteed a home through debt-free ownership of the beautiful building. However, operating funds are still required and staff, volunteer board and teens themselves make sure the programs thrive through their fundraising activities. Many local businesses and individuals support Chop’s efforts through donations of cash, in-kind donations and volunteer time.

Time has proven that the programs, people, and benefits have attracted teens from all walks of life – and membership grows each year. Perhaps those kids most in need are the biggest beneficiaries, receiving opportunities they may not get through their families. Clearly Chop’s is thriving, through its collaborations with other community services for young people, its solid relationships with the neighborhood, and the energy of 70-120 kids who bring the club to life every day.

Happy-ending stories abound. Told with passion and enthusiasm, Diana Curtin, Executive Director, provides just one example: A boy, youngest of three in a fatherless, below poverty level household, has found a place at Chop’s that provides him with security and potential he can’t find at home. In fact, Chops’s is his safer second home, where he’s learned to play music, is getting straight A’s in school and avoids the gang life of two older brothers. This young man considers Chop’s staff as his family. He has found stability, his own self-confidence and potential. His next goal is to go through the Workforce Program to learn the intricacies and necessities of succeeding in today’s demanding world of employment.

Says Curtin, “So many kids come here not even beginning to see their own potential. They have the freedom to explore here, to go to the art studio only to discover they can paint. Perhaps next they will enroll in Santa Rosa High’s ArtQuest program and find a direction they had never even imagined before they came to Chop’s. Here there are no limits.”

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