I remember well the night I met the hippies for the first time. OK, they weren’t real hippies, but they were the tie-dyed, long haired, counter culture teenagers who would form the constituency of the Spanish Castle youth center when it opened in the summer of 1969.

I had just been hired to be the center’s first “director,” on a very part-time basis. My role was to be chaperone, counselor, and administrator to the teens who hung out at the old house after school and a couple of nights a week. Looking back, I was not the best choice for the job. My previous experience with “youth work” had been centered exclusively on church kids, mostly speaking at youth fellowship meetings and church camps. Only in the past year or so had I paid much attention to the music teens were listening to. And only that night did it occur to me that the teens who sat across the room from me were not exactly invloved in churches. That, it turned out, was kind of the point.

Some background is helpful here: how the Castle came to be, how the place wound up in our hands, and who those “hippies” really were.

First, how the youth center came to be. A teenager named Mike and a buddy were smoking pot one day after school, and Mike’s mom caught them.  I won’t tell you Mike’s last name, because he’s now a professor of music at a large university, and I’m not sure how much he wants his students to know about his youth. But his mother was a nurse and loved her son, and was very active in her church and its social ministry programs. When she confronted her son and his friend about their need for weed, the conversation eventually led to something about being bored, having nothing to do after school, and wishing for a place to get with friends, to make music (jam), and just hang out.

Mike’s mother knew that in their suburban area, the only place besides the school to hang out was near the big fountain at the shopping mall. She went to a meeting of a group known as BASIC (Bon Air-Southampton Interfaith Council) and shared her notion that a community center of some sort would be a helpful addition to the neighborhood. She had taken her son seriously and the council members took her seriously.

Eventually, someone from St. Michaels Epsicopal Church announced that the congregation was building a new educational building to house the church’s neighborhood kindergarden program. Therefore, the school would be leaving its home in an old house on the church property. Would that house be suitable as a drop-in center for teens? The church soon offered the “Overby House” to a new division of BASIC, to be called BASY, Inc., the nonprofit Bon Air-Southampton Youth.

The word spread among youth and adults in the community, and the old house passed their inspection. It needed some work: paint, spackle, furniture, and general clean-up. BASY, Inc. invited some adults in the community to develop governing board, and asked some teenagers to form their own board to come up with house rules. In the meantime, in a brilliant move, someone suggested a third tier for the house, an Advisory Board that included some professionals whose work directly involved adolescent development. The co-director of the Adolescent Clinic of the Medical College of Virginia, a pastor, a high school teacher, and a police officer were among the first invitees. We should have added a lawyer. (The reason for that need is coming up soon.)

So, there we were that night. A handful of dedicated adults, maybe ten teenagers in chairs lined against one wall, and the too-clean-cut-for-his-own-good young minister who was to shepherd the flock. It wasn’t long before one of the BASY Board members mentioned to the kids that I was a “deejay” on one of the top rock stations. Not quite accurate; but it didn’t hurt. Maybe I would sound more cool than I looked. More about that night in the next post…