In October 1996, Dodge City teenager, Justin Mercado, was hanging out with friends in the Boothill Museum parking lot, like they had done so many times before. On that fateful October night, a 14 year-old gang member fired rounds of gunshots into the crowd of teens. Justin, an innocent bystander, was fatally shot. Justin was just 18 years old; a recent high school graduate with plans for a bright future. A fun night of hanging out with high school friends before moving away to start the next chapter of his life, ended with an act of senseless violence. Justin's next chapter was violently taken away.
Thankfully, Justin's story does not end in tragedy...
Shortly after Justin's death, Dodge City residents, Jim & Tonya Lewis, invited a group of friends, community members and business associates together to disuss building a teen center in Dodge City. Volunteers came forward to help form Project Teen-Safe, Inc, and serve on the Board of Directors. On February 14, 1997, Project Teen-Safe, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Stop The Violence, an organization started by Justin Mercado's family, helped recruit high school students of all grade levels to attend a meeting and share ideas for a teen center. Jim & Tonya Lewis worked with the teenagers to identify the type of environment and activities that high school students would respond to. The teens wanted a night club atmosphere, dancing, music, pool and foosball tables, snack bar, and a safe place to hang out with friends.
Project Teen-Safe, Inc. purchased half of the former Plaza Lanes bowling alley in early 1997 and immediately began work on construction of a teen center. The organization sought help from the community and received over $250,000.00 in cash and in-kind donations. In addition to the adult Board of Directiors, a Teen Board was also established. They were instrumental in developing ideas, doing the work to get the teen center open, and forming a path for future teen board members to work in all aspects of the day-to-day operations at The Alley. The Teen Board named 'The Alley', after the building's previous occupant, a bowling alley.
The Alley opened on December 17, 1997. The senseless tradegy of Justin's death and the memory of how he lived his life, inspired the community to act, and to give hope back to a shaken community. Justin is the sole inspiration behind Project Teen-Safe, Inc. and The Alley teen center. The Alley provides a fun, safe environment and gets teenagers off the street. It is widely used by middle school and high school students. Since opening in 1997, a little over one year after Justin's death, The Alley has kept thousands of teenagers safe and continues to provide activities for youth to channel their energy in positive ways!
THE ALLEY teen center serves youth in memory of Justin Mercado. Justin is the reason The Alley exists and he is why we continue our work to provide a safe place for youth. Justin's bright smile is present every day in The Alley and guides us in our efforts.
Project Teen-Safe, Inc.
January 19, 1978 - October 6, 1996
Justin Mercado lives on in every teenager that walks through our door. The Alley has a positive impact on the lives of our youth, and we serve to prevent teens from joining gangs and engaging in destructive, violent behavior. Justin is the heart and soul of The Alley and he will never be forgotten!
15-year Anniversary Justin Mercado Memorial Walk
October 8, 2011 - Boothill parking lot
Pictured: Justin's family by the memorial tree at Boothill Museum