Ferris House puts new spin on old teen center idea
SUMMIT COUNTY The birth (and impending doom) of local teen centers has gone a little like this in the past: Teens and parents meet, they talk about what they’d like in a teen center, a strip mall repository may be established, and one more item is checked off the countywide to-do list. The kids don’t come, and the ones who do don’t come back, because in the end, it’s just not cool. But the formula could change. It’s possible Tony Gazzana, founder and CEO of The Ferris House, has the je ne sais quoi that makes the teen demographic flock to a hangout. He’s already climbed above the people who told him otherwise. “I had a whole bunch of people saying, ‘You can’t do what you want to do,’ ” Gazzana said.During the early stages of his plan – a year and a half ago – the 37-year-old succumbed to those naysayers. He put The Ferris House on the shelf like a piece of sports equipment in need of repair, but he did keep skateboarding. And in the sport’s high season, that small window of weather when outdoor skateparks see flip-season snowboarders and year-round shredhounds, Gazzana’s passion caught up with him. “I was like, ah, man … then there was a bunch of skate contests up here in the summer,” Gazzana said. The story would end now if Gazzana won a $100,000 prize at a competition, or if he met Tony Hawk and received $1 million to blow on whatever – a teen center, say, or decks for all the underprivileged kids. But Gazzana instead dropped in to a deep, winding jungle made of challenges harder than the concrete competitors were skating on. He set up tables at skating events to discuss his dormant plan and his motivation, hot to the touch, warmed up the High Country climate. “Everybody – the parents, the kids – everyone was like, ‘You gotta do it,'” Gazzana said. “After a while it’s like, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t do this.'” “I” is the operative word in Gazzana’s self-talk. His “I” is a strong statement, one consisting of charisma and courage. People say he has what it takes – coolness – to put his weight behind a teen center. “If anybody could pull it off it would be Tony,” Kelly Kissling, Mountain Mentors teen coordinator, said. “It has to be what the kids want and you never know because they change from day to day.”
Gazzana has credibility because he’s been there, and in many ways, is still experiencing the precarious years of life when development of values and self collide to form a mature person.”I don’t know when I turned into a cool adult,” Gazzana said. “I still think I’m 15.” Maybe that’s because he skates with kids, he hangs with kids, and he counsels kids at Colorado West’s Adolescent Recovery Program. Or it could be the fact that Gazzana is juggling just as many pieces of fruit as his younger skating comrades. He’s in recovery, after 20 years of drugs and drinking. “No one ever told me there was something else,” Gazzana said of his childhood options. “Now it’s like, wait a minute, there’s a lot of kids up here that are going through the same thing or worse than I did.”Now that Gazzana is recommitted to The Ferris House, he’s milking local resources as best he can. He’s put up petitions at The Grind, Big Hit, Underground and Antler’s. Extra pages are stapled to the back of the sheets regularly, and the number of supporters on paper is growing. He has a formal business plan printed out, a board of directors, and an extensive list of professional and advisory supporters. There’s a website, potential sponsors, and of course, his personality. “He has a real vision on what the kids are doing,” Kate Glerup, CAC II counselor said. “Because he’s a skater dude and a snowboard guy I’ve seen him be able to connect with all the kids.” Gazzana supports his street cred with statistics: In a survey from the 2005/2006 school year cited in The Ferris House’s business plan, 80 percent of Summit High School students expressed need for a skate park/youth center and a safe place to gather away from their parents. And more importantly, there’s the fact that the earlier a person starts using drugs, the more likely that person is to become addicted. And bottom line, that’s what Gazzana is trying to fight. The Ferris House’s mission statement ends with a plaintiff statement that gets to the heart of Gazzana’s purpose: “Any time kids want to do something that does not involve drugs, gangs or criminal activity, we will support them. They are our future.”The business plan brings misconceptions about The Ferris House’s skatepark concept out into the open. It says that skateparks used to be seen as the meeting ground for thugs and punks, but now “you look over the concrete oasis known as the skatepark, you will probably see a young six-year-old with his mom watching on the nearby bleachers.” And if kids didn’t want to skate while at The Ferris House, there would be other options. Gazzana envisions skate and snowboard movie premieres, supervised internet access, specialized classes, a juice bar, organic snacks, employment opportunities, hang-out lounges and even counseling. (Gazzana recently completed schooling to become a certified addictions counselor.) The always-expandable opportunities will leave out a few options, like loitering, dealing and using drugs and alcohol.
“Don’t even try to get one over on me,” Gazzana said. “You’re either in here (The Ferris House) or not. We don’t want you sitting in the car getting high. I mean, I was a kid, I know.”And the skatepark adds to the thrill of not drinking or using drugs. “It’s really, really hard to skate when you’re drunk or high,” Gazzana said. “When you’re into it, you’re into it.”The roadblocksIn front of the pipe dreams, which are the best dreams of all if you’re on a skateboard, are some of the same reasons Gazzana gave up on The Ferris House the first time. In Gazzana’s terms, the challenges boil down to this: “Cash and a place to build a big-a** building.” He’d like to see that building next to the high school, where there’d be easy bus access and a central county location. If he combined three lots, he could put his hoped-for 10,000-15,000-square-foot structure on the space. “To make it up and running and not owe a dime on anything … that’d be $2 million,” Gazzana said. To sustain The Ferris House on a yearly basis would take anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. Will Gazzana’s vision – a “totally cush, chill place to hang out … kind of like the library, but loud” – make it in Summit County? Perhaps, if it becomes a community project, and communities involve the kids. Gazzana, with his tattooed body, tongue ring and dedication to keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol, may be the man to head it up. “You’ve got to expose kids to other things,” he said. “That way they can see, maybe, just maybe, I can do other stuff and not get high.”
Why is it called The Ferris House?Chris Ferris “was just basically a nice guy,” according to Tony Gazzana, CEO of The Ferris House. So naturally, the late owner of The Big Hit who let kids hang out at the store and supported skateboarding in the community was a great namesake for a place that gives teens their own space. Though Gazzana didn’t personally know Ferris, he’s heard stories from kids about his legacy at the local skateparks. “I hear, ‘He was so rad, sucks that he’s gone,’ and, ‘That’s so cool you’re calling it The Ferris House,’ ” Gazzana said. According to Gazzana, Ferris just liked helping kids. From the space he provided for them in the store to the support he gave to skateboarding, Gazzana and Ferris ride a similar wave. “He just liked helping the kids,” Gazzana said. Donate and learn moreThe Ferris House Inc. recently applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. That means any donations from this point on will be retroactive, meaning money will be tax-deductible, founder and CEO Tony Gazzana said. Learn more about The Ferris House online at ferrishouseyouth.com. Gazzana can be reached at email@example.com. Donations can also be made on the website. Lindsey Krusen can be reached at (970) 668-4620 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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