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Last dance for Unity Center organizer

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Bobby Garcia, events manager for The Unity Center, left, speaks with Hank Sisneros, a volunteer, outside The Unity Center Monday. Garcia, who has spent 10 years with the center, including four in a paid position, is set to leave his job at the center and move to Seattle. (Alex Ross Photo)

For a decade, Bobby Garcia has helped arrange concerts, dances and other entertainment for area youth, but Saturday will be his last day as The Unity Center’s event organizer.

In an interview Tuesday, Garcia said that Sunday he will leave Roswell – the community where he has lived all of his life – to take a job as a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Seattle.

Garcia also made the announcement about his planned departure in posts on his Facebook page.

He acknowledges that the new job is a change of pace from the one he now holds, where he is tasked with planning events, running the center’s sound studio, supervising youth and writing grants.

“It is completely different from what I am doing now, but I feel like I needed a change,” he said.

Initially scheduled to depart Friday, Garcia decided after attending what was supposed to be his final event at the center on Dec. 27, he decided to stay for a final dance.

The dance will take place Saturday at 8 p.m. at The Unity Center. Two Lit Productions — an upstart band made up of local teenagers — will provide the entertainment.

The dance is typical of the type of events the center puts on — entertainment aimed at, suggested by and oftentimes facilitated by youth between ages 11 and 19.

Aside from concerts and dances, the center also holds movie viewing parties, video game sessions and even a few years ago, a pumpkin-eating contest.

Youth who come to the center decide what events should be held. Garcia describes it as a center for teens run by teens, that provides them with a safe, drug- and alcohol-free place to go.

The building at 108 E. Bland St. also boasts a basketball court, along with pool and hockey tables, computers and a recording studio.

Garcia has organized events for the center for 10 years, first as a volunteer and for the past four years as the center’s sole employee.

However, for Garcia, 28, his involvement with the center began as a teenager.

When he was 16 years old, his sister Daniella would watch him. At the time, she would book events for the center and would take him to the center.

He said back then, the center was only open for scheduled events a few times a month, drawing mostly teens who were skaters, into hard rock or were artistic. The scene was one that seemed strange to Garcia, who back then was a student-athlete, more comfortable playing football or running track than going to a teen center.

Garcia said he now credits The Unity Center with introducing him to people from other social groups, as well as opening his eyes and ears to other interests such as different types of music. Before he used to come to the center, Garcia just used to listen to music that he heard on the radio, but other youth at the center got him interested in other genres of music, such as hard rock, acoustic music and ska.

He also was drawn to some of the acts scheduled at the center, many of them teenagers who had been playing at venues across the country and stopped in Roswell.

“And it was just amazing to see people like me out traveling, doing something with their lives and trying to play music for somebody,” Garcia said.

He was also inspired as a teenager by Jane Batsen, a community activist who was involved in The Unity Center at the time. Garcia said she would let him and other youth plan and host events with minimal adult supervision.

“Whenever I was there, she just kind of let me do whatever I wanted to do,” he said.

“I honestly believe that is one thing The Unity Center is really good at is — it is a teen center run by teens,” Garcia continued.

Throughout the years, Garcia has seen changes in the center, which was initially located at West College Street, but in 2010 the building was condemned, and for years after that, Garcia and several other volunteers would organize events at any venue available, including his mother’s backyard.

In 2014, the center’s luck improved. Garcia’s brother Matthew began writing stories for the Roswell Daily Record, which inspired a donor to come forward and provide Garcia and other volunteers with the money to purchase a building.

The woman, who Garcia would not name but lives in Roswell, said she eventually helped provide enough money to provide him with a salary.

Garcia said throughout the years, he has grown close to the youth who come to the center — they have become more diverse than when he was a teenager.

He said that he forms close bonds with the kids, asking them how their day has been and if they went to school that day.

“When I talk to these kids and I ask them about how their day was, I really do care how their day was,” Garcia said.

One thing he said that surprises him is how the youth look up to him as a role model. It’s a role he does not usually see himself in, but said he finds that he has the ability to relate to the teenagers.

Young people at the center will often call him in the middle of the night, with issues ranging from a fear of going home because they think they will get in trouble, to suicide attempts.

He said that during his time at the center, he has been able to talk with the youth, and that contrary to what people think, they aren’t annoying kids but young adults filled with creativity.

“It’s really amazing if you talk to some of these kids — some of them are like super bright and they have all these ideas, and they just don’t have someone to help them turn these ideas into reality,” Garcia said.

He said he will miss so much about The Unity Center, but is excited for its future and thinks someone closer to the age of the youth who go there needs to take over.

“Someone else needs to experience this and enjoy the fun times ahead,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.