Boiler Room

“The Boiler Room has been many things to many people. A coffeehouse, an art gallery, a private business, a nonprofit teen center, a cause, a scapegoat. But to me it has been a salvation – a place to be, and belong. Home. I’ve worked with some of the finest human beings I’ve met to preserve a common goal of home for ourselves and anyone else who needed it, to resolve the question of where do I belong. So many people ask it, and we can never afford to let ignorance settle such questions.”

– Jake Kelly, former BR Manager

In the spring of 2012 curiosity drove me to approach the Board of the Boiler Room and ask for permission to photograph there. I have seen many youth centers come and go, most only last a couple of years before fading away. I wanted to find an answer as to why the Boiler Room in Port Townsend works when so many other similar organizations fail.

Real change in this world starts locally and in the hands of those invested in their own community. It moves out from where it begins into the much broader world. What the Boiler Room does is invest in individuals through community and in community through individuals. The respect and sense of responsibility at the Boiler Room spreads from there into the world at large as the patrons and volunteers grow and move on. I for one believe it is making the world a better place for all of us.

The secret to the success of the Boiler Room lies in those who are involved and in their approach; it is truly an example of the inmates running the asylum. And in this case, it works. The idea was to create a safe place to explore and to help others, one that was based on mutual respect and acceptance. By appreciating their differences and being supportive of the individuals there, the Boiler Room became a home to those who are trying to find their way in this world. Their choices and explorations are valued and there is help when anyone fails or needs an extra hand.

I saw firsthand how the generations hand-off that sense of responsibility to the others that are just beginning their journey of discovery and how they support each other in those choices. There is a real sense of loyalty and commitment. The volunteers, administration, and board of directors all feel a responsibility to keep the place true to its roots of being a place where everyone belongs and can find what they need to become a better person for themselves and the community. Each person who has spent time volunteering or just hanging out there eventually moves on into the wider community and carries with them what they have learned here at the Boiler Room.

I am proud to say the majority of my friends in Port Townsend are less than half my age, friends who have accepted me as I am, taught me much and included me in their lives. I urge anyone of any age to spend some time in the Boiler Room. The music can be a bit loud however the coffee is good, and if you show up often enough, folks will remember your name and you too can be included as much as you wish or are willing. I began as an observer, became an advocate, and ended up as a family member.

~Raymond Ketcham

Update: Hubris and reaching too far has provided for the downfall of one of the grandest experiments I have known for providing a safe place for development of both young and old. The Boiler Room Closed after 25 yrs of operation in August of 2018. The reasons are many, the predominant being, losing sight of the core mission, the younger folks who need a place to fit in and find themselves.