By Molly Cerreta Smith

One of the coolest things I love about Arizona is the amazing talent that has been born out of this state and the incredible amount of celebrity love we have here. I’m not sure there is another rock star that has been as supportive of the state as former wildman rocker Alice Cooper.

A resident of the valley for more than 60 years, Alice Cooper and his wife Sheryl’s philanthropic efforts are truly something to behold — especially when you get to see them firsthand when you enter the Solid Rock Teen Center (and that is just one area of focus of the Coopers’ 25+ years of philanthropic generosity). I’ve known that Solid Rock has been at the corner of 32nd Street and Thunderbird for quite some time (seven and a half years, to be exact), but I’ve never been in and never really knew what the center was all about. Until now.

Randy Spencer, a 25-year veteran of the music industry, is in charge of Phoenix Teen Center’s Community Partnerships and was nice enough to give me the grand tour of the 28,000-square-foot facility. What looks somewhat unpresumptuous from the outside holds a true wonderland of the arts within.

The most incredible part of the Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center is that everything is offered 100 percent free to teens ages 12 through 20. They are welcome to come and simply hang out (a game room offers up couches to lounge or do homework, ping pong and other game tables, as well as a full stage while guitars hang along the walls that youth are welcome to use for an impromptu solo for example) or participate in the many classes, open jam sessions or art sessions as often as they want. The art studio is a place where students can come and draw or participate in a volunteer or instructor-led class.

The Teen Center is also home to a dance studio that offers a full schedule of free classes from yoga to hip hop and more. Hodgie Jo, Director of Dance for the Center, also teaches classes in addition to other instructors including Sheryl, an amazing performer in her own right.

While the Teen Center is run by about eight staff members and more than 200 volunteers, they also have amazing amounts of famous people from around the world — from artists and rock stars to dancers — lend their time and talents to help the teens advance in their fields of interest or simply learn something new. Another important aspect that is inadvertently showcased is the foundation of love and support that Alice and Sheryl provide through simply being who they are — the longtime couple have been together for more than 32 years and according to Randy are a great example for teens of flourishing relationships.

A recording studio, video production, private “jam” rooms, and a large venue for events and performances all reside in this unassuming building; each space offering teens an unparalleled opportunity to learn and grow in multiple areas of the arts. For those teens looking to advance their music careers, they are welcome to use the recording studio to make and record their own demos that they are free to take and use. Teens can also learn about video editing and more and even produce video with a real green screen.

Ultimately, Alice Cooper Solid Rock Teen Center gives kids the tools, resources and opportunities to explore their interests in the musical and performing arts in a safe, caring and all-inclusive environment that bucks stereotypes and encourages teens to encourage and support one another. In fact, Randy notes that some of the best friendships and camaraderie have been formed among youth here because they come together as strangers but are united by common interests.

“We have so many amazing stories of youth that have come here feeling like they didn’t have a group of friends or even whose families weren’t able to be there for them, and then they form friendships here that become like family,” says Randy. And that is a true testament to the Coopers’ initial vision and mission for the Teen Center — to fill a need for teens that gives them a safe environment in which to flourish and to make an everlasting difference in their lives.

Aside from meeting some of the world’s greatest talents, teens are also welcome to participate in some of Alice Cooper’s performance opportunities including Alice Cooper Christmas Pudding, Christmas at The Rock for Kids, Rock the Runway Fashion Show coming up on April 4 (which showcases models of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders), the Alice Copper Celebrity Golf Tournament, Comic-Con, Alice Cooper’s Schools Out Talent Showcase as well as corporate fundraising and organization events. Another goal Randy says is to have the teens run the Center themselves… and they are working toward that goal. Three teens have recently been hired on at The Center. That is particularly important to Randy, who says one of his personal goals is to give teens their first paycheck.

When the Teen Center first opened, there was always intent to add more; to fill the need that the Coopers see for artistic or musically-inclined teens that don’t really have a place where they can go and pursue their interests or to simply have a safe space of refuge. And that vision is being met with a second Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center opening in Mesa this fall. The East Valley Center will be 11,000 square foot and convenient to a Light Rail allowing teens easy access.

“We’d love to open as many Centers as there is a need for,” says Randy. “We pursue high excellence and quality for young people, and anyone is welcome to come by and take a look at what we are doing here.” The Teen Center is free and open to all teens ages 12 to 20 years old Monday through Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. There is a calendar online of all the various weekly activities and special events including Modern Recording Techniques, Flash Multimedia Class, Movie Night (as well as off-site movie nights at nearby theaters), Creative Arts, Illustration, Songwriting and more. Fresh smoothies and dinner are even offered on specific dates and times. Free guitar, bass, drums, piano and vocal classes are also offered, but must be scheduled in advance. Instruments are available onsite to practice with for free anytime during Center hours.

Many of the fundraising events that the Coopers produce and are involved in benefit the Teen Center directly as well as allowing additional opportunities for the teens. Hosted by Sheryl Cooper and directed by Hodgie Jo, the Rock the Runway Fashion Show presented by Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock takes place April 4 at the Teen Center from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is free to attend. Featuring numerous musical performances and fashion from Stop Staring Clothing (LA) to the Salvation Army. Another great fundraiser for the Center is the Alice Cooper’s 23rd Annual Rock and Roll Golf Classic and Fundraising Bash, which takes place Sunday, April 26.

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