Q & A with Dr. Greg Allen, Founder and Director
You opened your doors in 2002, but how did F4U come to be?
I noticed that the community did not offer healthy, safe social gatherings. Teens were meeting in house parties with drinking, drugs and other risky behaviors. Often the police had to break up gatherings with various arrests occurring. This kept occurring frequently, as it does today. There were many problematic outcomes for teens on weekends. Freedom4U started because I saw a need in youth to gather together and I wanted to be able to offer it to them in a safe environment.
Were you brainstorming with someone on the idea or did it just come to you one day?
As I interacted with several parents, school personnel and law enforcement; it became clear that the community needed safe, supervised gatherings. It was also clear that it needed to be youth driven in terms of ideas and implementation. When you consider competing with the house party scene, the alternative needs to be something that teens will buy into through attendance and participation.
It’s interesting you mention house parties as your competition.
Yes. House parties are the main competition for weekend nights activites. Teens want to have fun and express themselves. The danger is when they do this in an environment that has drinking and drug use occurring.
So, Freedom4U is a place for teens to gather in a safe environment?
Yes. I wanted teens to have a place where they could still express themselves however without substance use and without the pressure to drink or do drugs to fit in. At Freedom4U, they can dance, sing, hangout and bring their creativity out in a fun alcohol and drug free environment.
Is this a service you felt you and your friends could have used during your teenage years?
Absolutely. In looking back to those years in my life, I definitely could have used a safe, fun activity instead of the risky behaviors we were all involved in. Personally, I understand how a teen can get off track, unfocused and have poor coping skills. Freedom4U provides me with an outlet to prevent teens from going through what I went through.
Did you speak to teens to “validate” your assumptions and preliminary research?
Yes. We made a survey and gave it out to dozens of teens around the community. The questions were: what do you do for fun? where do you go? what type of place/activity would you go to? what would be needed to be there?
The results of the survey showed us #1, that teens wanted to be with their friends. Also, that music and art would be something to gather around as a focus.
What did you do then?
We then recruited artists from the community to come with their hands-on art to demonstrate and then allow others to do it. We had pottery wheels, ceramics, painting, etc… Other businesses donated food and drinks. We had a few hours of everyone doing art. We then put the art in the theatre room where our upcoming concert would be. We then had 3-4 hours of bands playing music. Our gatherings for the first few years consisted of this. we also had tv's with surfing videos going around the room. We created artistic decorating inside with PVC piping, fabric, lighting, etc… So it was a cool place to enter. This was in 2002 and then we grew into different types of music and other social gatherings….
We received money to buy a used sound system which we used for bands to play. We instantly had hundreds of teens attend.
We named this program "The Awakening' because we were awaking talent and creativity. There are many young adults currently who could give their impressions of these years.
How has it developed from your original concept?
Over the years, many bands have come and gone including different styles of music.… Our crowds have been up to 500 in some concerts with 9 bands playing in night.
The Annex was opened in 2006 and has become a great after school place as well as weekend focus for healthy youth activities. We are grateful for Kathy Gould and PVLD's leadership in the formation of the Annex, which we share in with PVLD.Dr. Nicole Wesley at RUHS, Dr. Charles Park at PVHS and Mitzi Cress at PVPHS have also committed to support our programs and vision which allows us to reach their students with meaningful services throughout the year.
How did you choose the name F4U?
The name describes what happens to participants of our programs. There is freedom for them as they let out their passion, purpose and talent. This sentence is from our Facebook site: There is a freedom that is experienced when someone finds, develops and expresses their talent and abilities = Freedom4U