NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — In the few months it’s been open, Pasco Youth Haven has steadily expanded both its membership and program offerings.

“The whole idea is just to be able to make a difference. It’s more than recreation. We do the life skills education, the mentoring, we’ve helped give food to families,” said Youth Haven Founder and President Tony Losacco.

Losacco said the center branched off from Youth Haven Ministries, which he started in 2017. For more than a year before the center’s April opening, he worked to raise money through Facebook to make it a reality.

“We got the support little by little, piece by piece. Everything here, like I told you, was donated by somebody in the community,” he said. “When you come up to people and say, 'We don't have an agenda, we're just trying to help kids,' that actually resonates.”

Dream Academy Schools donated the space the center uses on Marine Parkway Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Inside, teens can play pool or video games or relax in a lounge area. Losacco said Youth Haven also works with other agencies in the community to hold workshops on topics like life skills or mental health.

A group of 10 teen leaders meet weekly to discuss what programming they want to see. Mondays are exclusively reserved for the arts – music, art, and theater classes are offered for free. On Fridays, free pizza is provided.

“We’re really diverse,” said Kasci Major, 13. “We like to expand and bring in new ideas and try to really include everybody.”

Frank Kubiek, 17, said he found out about the center through a flier and stops by several days a week.

“It’s a place where I can not have to worry about the harsh realities of the world. I can just be myself here,” Kubiek said.

Parents have to register kids before they can hang out at the center. Losacco said 49 have signed up so far. The number of teens there at any one time varies, but the current capacity of the center is 32. At first, Youth Haven was open just three days a week. That was expanded to five days thanks to the volunteers – many of them parents – who help run the center.

Something Losacco didn’t expect – Youth Haven has become a place kids turn to for help with their most basic needs.

“This, because it’s free, is a place for the kids that have nothing, that don’t fit anywhere else,” Losacco said. “We had kids coming in that the free pizza was their only meal of the night, kids living out of hotel rooms, and we were finally like, ‘We’re just going to give it.’”

Losacco said food and clothing are available for members upon request. An agency provides the center with toiletry items that kids are free to take from the center’s bathrooms.

"This is a place for all kids to feel safe, accepted, and welcome and to be able to make a difference. That’s what matters,” Losacco said.

While their space is donated, Losacco said Youth Haven relies on volunteers and donations to keep the center running. To learn more about the center or find out how you can contribute, visit its Facebook page or click here.

You can also call (727) 245-9744.