File photo 
                                Issaquah’s teens will have a spot all to themselves to relax, have a coffee, socialize and do homework.

File photo Issaquah’s teens will have a spot all to themselves to relax, have a coffee, socialize and do homework.

Issaquah Teen Cafe to give local students a new opportunity

A new Issaquah coffee spot will soon give local teenagers a special place to call their own.

The all new Issaquah Teen Cafe, tentatively set for a soft open next spring, will soon provide high-schoolers just that. Inspired by facilities such as the Firehouse in Redmond and the Boiler Room in Port Townsend, the Issaquah Teen Cafe will be a place for students to hang out with one another, work on homework, enjoy free snacks and take part in their hobbies.

“There is nowhere for high school kids to go,” explained KayLee Jaech, who recently stepped down from her role as Issaquah Schools Foundation executive director to become the executive director of the teen cafe. “The Issaquah Community Center does a really good job of serving young kids and middle school kids … but once they hit high school, high school kids and middle school kids don’t want to hang out.”

Jaech and other Issaquah Schools Foundation colleagues, including Barb de Michelle, Jerry Blackburn and Carolyn Kennedy, have been working on the idea for years. With Issaquah Friends of Youth as the official sponsor of the Issaquah Teen Cafe, the cafe is able to raise its own funds. Jaech said the yearly cost of running the cafe is estimated at around $250,000, while the move-in costs are estimated to be $30,000.

At Tuesday’s Council Services and Safety Commitee meeting, Issaquah Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Watling announced that Parks and Recreation had four different city-owned sites in mind for a Teen Cafe location — a residential building at 185 Bush St., the Issaquah Trails House at 110 Bush St., a portion of the building at 235 First Ave. SE — which currently houses Parks and Recreation employees and is known as the “235 building” — and using a portion of the Issaquah Community Center. 

Watling said that the “235 building” was the favorite after speaking with staff and teens involved in the cafe. He said that the community center was “the most ready” but would “represent an impact,” as some of the programs currently held at the center would need to be relocated.

Councilmember Eileen Barber said that she favored the “235 building,” noting that a facility separate from the Community Center would give teens “their space to use.” Jaech pointed out that all of the locations would be accessible on foot from Issaquah High School and Gibson Ek, and is just a bus ride away from Skyline and Eastside Catholic in Sammamish.

Jaech saw with her own children the difficulty in knowing where to go hang out with friends after school. Some kids go to Starbucks, she said, but this can get expensive for students. Others go to the library, but this is not necessarily ideal for having a conversation.

“I found my kids struggling to find a place to go that didn’t cost any money and was a safe place for them to hang out,” she said.

The teen cafe will simultaneously provide the talkative, coffee shop atmosphere (with complementary food and drink) for students who want to socialize, but will also offer a study hall area, complete with WIFI and computers for kids who don’t have their own computers at home.

The steering committee, Teens for Teens, is considering a variety of options for the space, including tutoring, video game access, cooking lessons and even providing a recording studio for teen bands. Jaech also hopes to bring regular counseling services to the cafe.

“Our youth are incredibly stressed out — there are high levels of anxiety and depression,” she said. “I think we need to do a good job of fixing that. And I think that this is one way that we can.”

Besides these activities and services, Jaech wants the cafe to simply be a place where teens can meet new people and make new friends. With the high schools in the area being so overcrowded, students likely haven’t even met all of their peers.

“We want to be a place where students can find their community,” she said.

Jaech said that the high level of performacnce pressure for today’s teens means that some young people may be missing out on the opportunity to have fun.

“The students I talk to don’t even know how to hang out,” Jaech said. “They feel guilty when they’re not being productive, because there’s so much pressure to be productive.”

The teen cafe is meant to show each student that they are valued and that they, too, can play an active role in their community.

“I want our teens, our high school youth, to know that the community cares about them, that they have a voice in the community,” Jaech said.

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