Portal 2:20 Teen Center is an entertainment hub for teens aged 13-18. The center is located at 108b Zimmerman Ave. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Portal 2:20 Teen Center is an entertainment hub for teens aged 13-18. The center is located at 108b Zimmerman Ave. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Three years after opening Portal 2:20 Teen Center, Director Julie Burk still buzzes with excitement when she speaks of the positive impact the center is having on the community. Portal 2:20, located at 108b Zimmerman Ave. gives teens ages 13-18 a free, safe place to go early in the week.

Burk explained that Portal 2:20 is not a youth group or a club, but rather an entertainment center. Burk noted that Portal tends to gear more towards the kids who may not have any other place to go.

“We’re not a huge group of kids, so it tends to attract some of the kids who maybe feel left out or misplaced, or maybe ones that aren’t interested in sports,” said Burk. “There are a lot of wonderful youth organizations here in town, but I felt like there was a niche that needed to be reached. Portal is just something different that I haven’t seen before.”

Portal offers a wide variety of activities from Dungeons and Dragons, video games, arts and crafts, board games, Nerf wars, pool, or it can also serve as a place where teens can go to do homework, read, watch movies or just chat with other teens.

“Kids can come in, have fun, and they are supervised and chaperoned, but we also play with the kids and do stuff with them,” said Burk. “We also welcome anybody who would be interested in volunteering. We have more information about that on our Facebook page and our website, which is portal220teencenter.org.”

Portal is currently only open Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m. Burk said she would love for the center to be open more days, but there is a need for volunteers in order to do so. There needs to be at least three volunteers per night. Each person who volunteers at Portal must be over the age of 21 and adhere to a background check.

Volunteers can participate in a variety of ways from interacting with teens, to helping with clean-up, or with manning the front desk or snack bar.

Earlier this week, nearly 20 teens signed into Portal within its first hour of opening, many returned for the Tuesday opening as well because they love spending time at the center.

“Portal is a home away from home,” said Dallas Burris, a junior at Vantage, who stated that if he could, he would live at the teen center. “You can do a lot of fun stuff here like Pac-Man, Guitar Hero, Just Dance, foosball, or you can make stuff."

“You can just be yourself here and not have to hide the true you,” said Sebastian Kreischer. “You can actually be you for who you are here.”

Kreischer said he heard about Portal through others and came for the first time around a year ago to try something new.

“I like being in an environment where there is goofiness and no judgment,” said Elise Burns, a student at Van Wert High School.

Teens at the center agreed that Portal has allowed them to make new friends from other schools – people they may not have met if it were not for attending Portal.

Each teen that enters Portal 2:20 must sign-in and sign-out when they leave. They allow for two sign-outs per night. While many walk to Portal, Burk noted there has not been any trouble created by any of the teens and addressed a misconception she’s heard about the teens who attend.

“People do have a misconception that Portal is for the ‘rough kids’ and that is not true,” said Burk. “We have kids from all walks of life. We have kids that are involved in sports and extracurricular activities that love to hang out here, and some of the kids have part-time jobs. We have a lot of wonderful kids here. They are really great personality-wise and I haven’t had a lick of trouble with them causing problems.”

Burk welcomes parents to check in anytime to see when their teens signed in and out.

“Parents are welcome to check our sign-in records whenever they want,” said Burk. “We always have an attendant in the office to make sure everybody’s keeping track.”

Portal 2:20 does offer Ramen noodle cups and popcorn to teens that enter the center hungry and are always accepting donations for such items. The center also offers a system where teens can earn credits through tasks to buy snacks or trinkets. Portal 2:20 is a non-profit and is completely donation funded. Burk welcomes all donations.

Burk noted that Portal 2:20 exists to help parents and teens.

“We’re not just here for the kids to have something to do and then they go home,” said Burk. “We hope that we can support parents and home-life and support the whole family structure.”

Portal 2:20 has several upcoming events. On Feb. 11, the teen center will be having a Valentine’s Day party called the “Cheesiest Holiday of the Year” which will feature a cheesy movie and a macaroni and cheese dinner. Then, on Feb. 20, to celebrate their three year anniversary, Portal is inviting families in from 6-9 p.m. for a family game night/ open house. They do ask that families only bring children 10 and up so everyone can participate together.

For more information about Portal 2:20, follow them on Facebook or visit their website, portal220teencenter.org.