MOUNT VERNON — For teenagers, finding something to do on a Friday night can be a challenge in a small town without a mall or a community-sponsored teen center. Some Mount Vernon teens say gathering at the city-owned lot they call the “Hillbilly Parking Lot” has become a regular Friday night activity because they can’t find anywhere else to go. The lot is at the corner of East Ohio Avenue and South Main Street.
“It’s just a hangout spot — it’s not like we’re doing anything here,” said “C,” a 14-year-old Mount Vernon sophomore who gathered at the spot with others on Friday night. He agreed to be interviewed but asked to be identified by his first initial only.
“You can see most of your friends, a lot of people are usually out here,” said “A,” who is 15.
Both boys had come from the Escape Zone, a teen center operated by volunteers on South Main Street. The center is not affiliated with a church or organization, but run by a board and staff of volunteers.
“The positive we are doing is kind of lost in the fracas,” Escape Zone Board President Aaron Kester told the News. “We’ve got a lost generation that people want to sweep under the carpet.”
On a Friday evening in July, around 9 p.m., the News observed an incident where the Mount Vernon Police Department was called to the scene.
While young people congregated in the parking lot, a confrontation between several teenage girls yelling obscenities at each other — while standing in the middle of South Main Street — escalated into a shoving match. After MVPD officers arrived and ordered the lot cleared, the area remained peaceful for the rest of the evening.
MVPD Chief Mike Merrilees said the incident was not an unusual one for a Friday night.
“We’ve had enough complaints and enough kids congregating down there and causing problems that we’re going to have to crack down,” Merrilees said when asked about recent reports of vandalism and fights in the area.
“I would guess a couple of times a month, outside the building,” Kester estimated when asked how many fights occur outside the teen center.
Kester said the problems outside the building are ones he cannot control.