10 / matters magazine / fall 2018 T he town library was being overrun by teenagers, streaming across the street from Maplewood Middle School in search of activity after school. Li- brary patrons described almost getting knocked down and staff having to re- peatedly “shhhhh” the hordes. Some town leaders suggested building a youth recreation center. The library announced it would close its doors from 2:45 p.m. until 5 p.m. to avoid the chaos. Something had to be done. Perhaps nothing is more apropos to this particu- lar scenario than the Margaret Thatcher adage: “If you want something done, ask a woman.” Because that’s just what the leaders in Maple- wood and South Orange did. To be precise, they asked Diane Malloy. “They looked for an executive director and hired me,” Malloy says of the newly-dubbed YouthNet or- ganization. “There was nothing in place. It was an idea on a yellow pad, that’s it.” That idea, sparked by necessity 10 years ago, has grown into a highly successful after-school organi- zation. Spearheaded by then-Maplewood Mayor Fred Profeta and then-South Orange Village Trustee Doug Newman, the nonprofit offers dozens of after- school clubs – from robotics and coding to cook- ing and social justice – for middle school students at MMS and the South Orange Middle School. “There were a lot of kids with no place to go af- ter school,” says Profeta, who formed a task force to examine the problem and possible solutions. “At the end of the day, we decided what would be best would be a local nonprofit organization with the mission of improving after-school life for the kids in the community.” It started small, according to Camilla Teitelman of South Orange, who has worked on YouthNet with Malloy since its inception and now serves as the co-chair of its Executive Board of Directors along- side Kevin Mason, assistant principal at Columbia High School. “The first year, we had two clubs but now we have 15 in each building,” Teitelman says. The club model was chosen after Malloy surveyed the students. It turned out that they actually didn’t want an expensive, new rec center; they just want- ed something to do. The disruption at the library, which came to a head after it was featured in a New York Times article in January of 2007, was just a generation of youngsters calling for help. “It brought to our forefront that there are a lot of families who don’t plan activities for their kids for af- ter school,” explains Malloy. “So when the bell rings, they are free. They are out of school and they want to go do things. They don’t want to just go home and do their homework.” Malloy, a 20-year Maplewood resident, was a perfect fit for YouthNet, the name intended to con- vey that the organization is a “net” to catch youths YouthNet Ten Years Later Maplewood woman casts a wide net for the district’s youth BY MALIA RULON HERMAN