SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. — Operators of a new youth community center are hoping it becomes an inviting hangout for the town of Naco, the one in Arizona and the one in Mexico.
El Centro Community Center, just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, opened its doors earlier this month. The facility is in its early stages with things like hours of operation and class schedules still being decided. Its founders envision a bicultural refuge where students on both sides could learn about art, music and each other.
Lori Keyne and Seth Polley, co-founders, they want teens to celebrate different cultures while gaining valuable skills.
“In the aftermath of COVID, it’s good to be with each other,” Polley, a history teacher at Bisbee High School and former reverend, told the Sierra Vista Herald/Bisbee Review. “We would like to have a space where people can come together for various activities, music, language, have a coffee, a place to hang out.
Keyne is a music teacher at Cochise College and the founder of Concerts Without Borders and the Bi-National Arts Institute. She wants to not only impart knowledge about the arts but also subjects like job skills and entrepreneurship.
Classes will be offered in person and online. For music, they have already lined up three guitar instructors. They will also be able to offer English and Spanish classes via Polley’s Sonoran Language Institute.
The center includes a front room lounge with a bar area, several back rooms for lessons and a spacious yard with a tortilla-maker. The bar-counter area is where coffee will be served. Teens interested in understanding how a business works will help run the coffee shop, Keyne said.
Jesus Moreno, who is from Naco, Sonora, but attends Bisbee High, was at the opening, where he learned how to hook up an espresso machine.
“I think this place is great,” the 17-year-old Moreno said in Spanish. “People, young people, can come here and have fun, but it’s also a place where the two communities can co-exist.”
The Rev. Rosa Brown, the associate for Hispanic Ministries at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix who chairs the Bi-National Arts Institute board, also attended the opening. There will be plenty of exchanges of ideas despite the presence of a border wall, she said.
“It’s our reaffirmation of working with the two communities, it’s symbolic,” Brown said. “We have a big wall there, but we see it as invisible. This side can give, but we can also receive from the other side.”