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January 7, 2009 > 'It's the Place to Be'

'It's the Place to Be'

By Simon Wong

What used to be Jake's Fireball Mohawk Gas Station at the intersection of Mission Boulevard and Decoto Road is conspicuous by its colorful exterior and is home to the Union City Teen Workshop established thirty-four years ago.

Union City residents, aged seventeen or younger, have the opportunity to acquire bicycle repair and maintenance skills, print T-shirts and, most recently, participate in video-movie production. While these activities are certainly fun, there is a serious side - the Teen Workshop is partially funded by Union City Leisure Services Department but also needs to generate an income.

The public can bring their bikes for repair and purchase spare parts. Re-conditioned children's bicycles are on sale for about $10 and adult bikes for around $50. Corporate wear is printed here for local businesses and organizations. Teens develop business and negotiating skills.

"Union City's Teen Program began in 1974, as the Teen Employment Program, with an Adobe brick-making project. It was housed in what was the Old Whipple Barn. One weekend, the barn was demolished without warning and the equipment put aside," explained Larry Orozco, Union City Recreation Supervisor. "The 1970's oil crisis saw many gas stations close. We found this site and the Mohawk Petroleum Company let us stay here rent-free for seven years.

"That summer, the students worked hard. Some of the bricks were sold to Mr Henry Franco who used them to build stables on his Sunol ranch and for decoration. The de Young Museum also purchased some for display. They can be found in many patios in the area. The brick-making project continued for several years. The Program also had an important job-referral component, located where Centro de Servicios is now, body and fender, some wood-working and welding. Some of the girls were trained in office skills. We favored entrepreneurial activities such as selling fireworks for July 4, flowers and produce from the market in Oakland. Bicycle repair and silk-screen printing have been our mainstay for thirty-four years." said Mr Orozco.

Students distributed "Hire a Youth" flyers to generate leads for the job-referral project.

"We had about six girls that did babysitting, about a dozen young men who did yard work, housecleaning, painting and so on. We would refer the students to local homes and businesses. Initially, I negotiated the rates for each job but the students soon assumed responsibility themselves for negotiations with employers.

"The job-referral component petered out many years ago. The jobs that many of the students want to do, or could do, have changed. It's more technical with computers and so on. There is still demand from residents for help around the house, for yard cleaning... but a lot of students don't want to do that," commented the Recreation Supervisor.

The Teen Workshop is run as a business and employs three part-time staff - Andrew Fulwiler, artist and silk-screen printer, Jumoke Hill, organiser of Union City's Teen Idol Competition, and Richard Camerio who also works at the Ruggieri Senior Center and Kennedy Center.

Public donations of old bicycles are welcomed. The Union City Police Department also passes on unclaimed lost-and-found bikes. Some are dismantled for parts, which are either used by the Workshop or sold to the public, and others re-built. Sale proceeds are used to buy tools, equipment and new spare parts from Wilson Bicycles, Inc., a local wholesaler. The bicycle repair project is self-sustaining.

"We have a good, albeit irregular, supply of bicycle donations. We've received as many as twenty to thirty at a time. As for customers, we are busiest on Saturdays. Currently, we have about fifty bikes for sale," explained Jumoke Hill.

The Teen Workshop provides one- and two-color silk-screen printing services. There are different events throughout the year, such as summer camps, Auto Show and Senior Walk, which equates to one or two orders per month.

"We can print a few hundred shirts in a day. We recommend that whoever places an order supplies the shirts. They can buy in bulk, online; that way they get the brands and sizes they want. Price depends on whether we or the buyer supplies the shirts, quantity, number of colors, etc. We supply quality shirts at a cheaper price than a named commercial company. What's important is that the profits go toward the kids in the Teen Program," said Andrew Fulwiler.

The Teen Workshop also used to print posters and banners for different organizations and events. Union City hosted a Little League World Series whose display banners were produced at the Teen Workshop. "This is something that we can still do," added Larry Orozco.

"Recently we introduced video production as part of the Teen Program to get kids more involved. About this time, last year, we started writing a script for a big production that we shot and edited over three weeks. The kids liked it; it gave them a chance of hands-on film experience. The film 'A Lot Can Happen from 10am to 3pm' is really funny and can be purchased at the Workshop. The project was a lot of fun," explained Andrew Fulwiler who directed and co-wrote the script with Chris-Pope DeLa Cruz.

Community awareness of the Teen Workshop spreads by word-of-mouth, advertising flyers, the Leisure Services Activity Guide and Union City Cable Channel 15. Students in the community are always welcome to visit to find out more.

The Union City Teen Workshop, at 33623 Mission Blvd, has recently introduced pre-teen projects on Saturdays, for ages nine to twelve, with new classes beginning each month.

Currently, the Workshop is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3pm until 5pm and on Saturday from 10am until 2pm.

"The Teen Program is a free, voluntary, drop-in program. Young people can work on a bicycle or learn about silk-screen printing in a safe environment. They might be here for ten minutes or three hours. You can never tell. After school, they can come here. That's what this program is about," summed up Larry Orozco. Or, as Andrew Fulwiler says on the sleeve of the Teen Workshop's DVD movie "It's the place to be."

For more information, visit or call the Teen Workshop on (510) 489 5348.

Union City Teen Workshop
33623 Mission Blvd., Union City
(510) 489-5348

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