Port Townsend's Boiler Room to celebrate 20th anniversary
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Boiler Room volunteer Austin Nowell, right, gets training from Executive Director Amy Smith, General Manager Ahren Howard and mentor Karen Ciccarone, from left.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — For 20 years, The Boiler Room has provided a safe place for kids to hang out, and the facility is celebrating this milestone with an all-day anniversary celebration Saturday.

“This is an accepting place, where we give people a second chance — or third or fourth chances, if they need them,” said Boiler Room Executive Director Amy Smith.

“People who come in here are family, and we are often more accepting of them than their real families,” she said.

“Boiler Day 20! A Celebration of Boiler Room Culture and Family” will begin at 11 a.m. at 711 Water St. with a pancake brunch.

Admission is free, though donations are welcome.

Music will begin at noon. The lineup features some of the best local bands who have supported the facility over the years, Smith said.

These include, in no particular order: Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown, The Low Ones, Robin Kastles, A + bEe, Jet Sparks, Jabez Richard, Usana, The Solvents, Michael Thomas and Myles Carroll.

Also planned are face painting, games, raffles, coffee, cookies and free soup.

Everything will take place in The Boiler Room's tiny home, where Smith expects 100 people to attend throughout the day.

Free food is part of the culture of The Boiler Room, which offers food and soup for no charge at 3 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

Last year, the place served 2,187 meals, Smith said.

While The Boiler Room's business side is supervised by an adult board of directors, it is the youngsters who write the program.

“For 20 years, this has offered kids a place to be where they have a say in running it,” said board member Julia Cochrane.

“They are the ones who will decide what's going on from day to day.”

Cochrane said the kids who hang out at The Boiler Room change from year to year.

Sometimes, they are edgy, adventurous or discontented, she said, while others want to do well in school and succeed in life.

The Boiler Room is considered a “no harassment zone” in which people are accepted for who and what they are.

And while the majority of those attending on a daily basis are young people, it is a place where anyone is welcome, regardless of age, Cochrane said.

It is also a place where youngsters can turn themselves around if needed, Cochrane said.

Smith first came in the door as a troubled kid, she said.

“I became involved with The Boiler Room in the fall of 2000,” Smith said. “I had been living in Seattle and had become addicted to methamphetamine.

“I was directed to The Boiler Room as a safe haven, a place where I could have the space and support to clean up and sober up.”

The Boiler Room was instrumental in saving her life, Smith said.

So she decided to return the favor.

She started volunteering in December 2000, served as coffeehouse intern in the spring of 2004, joined the board in June 2004 and became secretary in September 2005 before becoming executive director in May 2012.

Noah Chorneau also said he came to The Boiler Room with an addiction. That was in 2011, and he was able to kick the habit because of the support he received from the other attendees and staff, he said.

He became a volunteer and worked his way up to volunteer coordinator, and is now working in the kitchen at Fins Coastal Cuisine in Port Townsend.

“The most important thing is the respect you get here,” Chorneau said.

“People respect you as an individual, and if you are willing to put in the work, you can accomplish a lot.”

Chorneau said he applied himself to serving customers at The Boiler Room, a trait that was noticed by a Fins customer who suggested that he apply at the restaurant and offered to give a recommendation.

“The Boiler Room is a place where kids can get some job training and a reference,” Cochrane said.

“They can climb the ladder all the way to the top, or they can just come in and use it as a safe place, where they can play music or records, or just hang out with their peers.”

The Boiler Room was started in 1993 by Teresa Verraes, who now serves as the director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce; Ross Bratlee; and Mitch Slater.

“The Boiler Room is vital to the community because our kids need different places to go,” Verraes said.

“It offers an incredible opportunity by teaching job skills, which has huge value when you are young and trying to learn.”

It began as an alcohol- and drug-free coffeehouse and art gallery in the basement boiler room of the Mount Baker Block Building and became a nonprofit with a board of directors in 1995.

It now gets 52 percent of its budget from the till and the remainder from grants and private donations.

Grants were received recently from the Ormsby Hill Trust, the Rex Foundation and the Grateful Dead Family Foundation, which contributed $2,000.

“That came out of the blue,” Smith said of the donation.

“They just called us up and said they liked what we are doing.”

Throughout its history, The Boiler Room has operated out of several venues.

At the end of 1997, it was moved to St. Paul's Episcopal Church for a short period of time before the board leased space on Lawrence Street from the Port Townsend Food Co-op.

The Boiler Room stayed there from January 1998 to May 2005.

The lease for its present location was signed in July 2005, and after extensive renovations, the doors were opened Christmas Day of that year.

In addition to serving as a soup kitchen and a community gathering place — which serves Sunrise Coffee for $1 per cup — The Boiler Room offers workshops in theater, storytelling, drumming and bicycles; poetry readings; films; dances; open mics; play groups for young parents; health and wellness discussions; and a knitting group.

In addition to an executive director, it is run by a general manager, three coordinators and volunteers.

Financial or food donations are accepted at anytime. Financial donations can be made at www.ptbr.org or mailed to P.O. Box 1659, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

For more information, contact Boiler Room General Manager Ahren Howard at 360-379-8247 or boilerroommanagerpt@gmail.com, or Executive Director Amy Smith at 360-379-8247 or boilerroomed@gmail.com.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 28. 2013 6:11PM
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