Neutral Zone FAQs

Neutral Zone FAQs

What is the Neutral Zone?

The Neutral Zone was founded by teens to provide a unique, youth-centered venue for needed social, cultural, educational, leadership, and creative opportunities for Ann Arbor area high school teens. We are a nationally recognized model as one of a few successful teen centers in the country in which youth decision-making and involvement permeates all levels of the organization. The mission statement of the center was written by teens and continues to be the voice and heart which drives the center’s creative programs:

The Neutral Zone is a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas.

Supported by 11 full time, 13 part time staff, one full time AmeriCorps volunteers and 100+ volunteers, Neutral Zone features an after school drop-in program, 21 weekly offerings across five program areas- Music, Literary Arts, Visual Arts, Education, and Leadership, and weekend concerts and special events.

Who does the Neutral Zone serve?
The Neutral Zone is open to any high school age teen . A nearly equal proportion of high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors participates in Neutral Zone programs.

  • How Many Teens does Neutral Zone serve? During the 2011-12 academic year 649 teens registered for Drop-in, weekly and summer programs – and 15,000 teen visits during the after school programs, special events and summer institutes.
  • What % of teens are from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Outlying areas? Over 80% of the registered teens come from the Ann Arbor schools, with a majority of those from the four major high schools – Skyline, Pioneer, Huron and Community High School. About 5% of these Ann Arbor teens come from other Ann Arbor schools, including Ann Arbor Tech. Last year nearly 15% of registered teens came from other parts of Washtenaw County, with a fairly even proportion from Ypsilanti, Saline and Dexter.

What are some statistics concerning diversity or identity of teen participants?
The Neutral Zone has a nearly equal percentage of male and female participants. During the 2011-12 programmatic year, Neutral Zone documented the following ethnic backgrounds of teens: African-American (21%); Caucasian (58%); mixed (3%); Latino (7%); Asian-American (8%); Native American (2%);middle eastern (1%). Additionally, this program year (11-12) over 60 teens identified in the LGBTQ community.

Is there a cost to teens?
Neutral Zone offers free to low cost programming to ensure all teens have opportunities to participate. The Drop-in after school space and tutoring are free, weekend concerts are generally $5 with student IDs, and there is a $165 yearlong program fee to help offset costs for weekly programs in Music Performance and Technology, Literary Arts, Visual Arts, and Community Leadership. Scholarships are available to any teen that applies.

Is the NZ for troubled or disadvantaged kids?
The Neutral Zone is for all high school age teens, regardless of school, socio-economic status, race, sexual identity, etc…. We serve a diverse range of economic backgrounds. Neutral Zone does not keep statistics on socio-economic status or other ‘risk categories’. We do, however, estimate family income or other risk factors of teens sampling and other voluntary information.

As a teen, how can I best use NZ?
In any way that suits your interests! We offer over 21 weekly programs in music, literary arts, education, visual arts and community leadership. Come record a track in the music recording studio, learn Photoshop in the digital arts class, write and perform slam poetry, design a t-shirt to silk screen or attend a weekend concert. If none of that suits you, come up with your own program! Teens are encouraged to pursue their creative and leadership interests at the Neutral Zone, and staff mentorship and organizational support always try to make that happen.

As a teen, what is so important about NZ?
Teen voice, teen direction and teen support are our mainstays! From the Board of Directors, the very top policy making body at the Zone, to what happens on a day to day basis within every program, teen voice and involvement are crucial and fundamental. We believe that in order to create a space that is inviting and engaging for teens, it must honor their interests, desires and values. Moreover, Neutral Zone has tremendous staff mentorship and program resources. These resources are focused on helping any high school age teen pursue a creative or leadership interest or passion.

What is the teen to staff ratio?
Neutral Zone is supported by 11 full-time, 13 part-time staff, one full time AmeriCorps volunteer and 100+ volunteers. Each day there are between 10-12 program staff and volunteers working with approximately 100-150 teens creating approximately a 1 to 15 youth to adult ratio.

What is unique about the Board?
Neutral Zone by-laws allow up to 35 Board members. What is unique about the Neutral Zone is that half of those members are teens or teen-elect members. Currently there are 31 members on the Board and 12 of those members are teens or teen-elect members.

What is the cost of running NZ? What is the Organization’s total budget?
Operational expenses (cash) for FY 2012 is approximately $759,000. This means that Neutral Zone invests approximately $1,200 per teen, on average, to run its high quality programs. This is less than the average annual cost of other teen programs, recently estimated at nearly $1,900 in a study by Public/Private Ventures . Additionally building costs for FY 2012, which includes interest and building depreciation ran approximately $90,000.

How is NZ funded?
For operations, approximately 21% of our funding comes from individual donors, 42% from grants, 24% from special events, 10% from earned revenues (program fees, rentals, etc…), 1% from other revenues and 3% in-kind.

For the 2011 calendar year, the Neutral Zone had 930 individual donors and 163 organizational donors (which includes foundations, corporations and businesses).

For the fiscal year 2012, 77% of expenses were for programs, 15% for fundraising and 8% for administrative costs.

How has NZ grown?
For the 2010-11 program year Neutral Zone had 649 unduplicated teen registrants. This total represents a 30% increase from 2009-10 and a 70% increase from the 2006-07 school year (376 registered teens) and a two-and a half increase as compared to the 2005-06 school year (237 registered teens).

Based on youth interests, Neutral Zone programs continues to grow. Each year the Teen Advisory Council approves new programs and projects to host at Neutral Zone. Through a deliberate process teens assess new ideas based on their priorities and select new program ideas to support.

What are NZ relationships with area schools?
The NZ has a close working relationship with Ann Arbor schools, with which we in partnership on many initiatives. For the past five years, NZ has hosted SEED, Students Educating Each other about Diversity (S.E.E.D.) S.E.E.D. facilitates teens from diverse identities to participate in weekly dialogues about the cycles of privilege and oppression, the history of discrimination and workshops on – sexism, classism, racism, and religious persecution. Following their dialogues and community building opportunities, teens host day long dialogues and activities at Scarlett, Clague, and Ann Arbor Open Middle Schools.

The NZ also works with teachers, counselors and student groups across the Ann Arbor high schools. In the past we have provided professional development for teachers at Community High School and held leadership training for Skyline’s Student Senate. We also host school events at the Zone including the County collaborative of school counselors as well as special student events for Community High School.

The Neutral Zone has wonderful support from Ann Arbor Schools, which allow us access to each of the high schools to post notices and program information, distribute materials with student mailings and other outreach through email and school announcements. Ann Arbor Schools, as well as a few other local high schools, allow us to do special outreach to students through visits to classrooms.

Neutral Zone also has growing relationships with Saline and Ypsilanti schools, which are assisting in outreach.

How can I learn about what former NZ teens are doing?
The Neutral Zone’s web page has an “alumni” link where we’ve reached out and asked former participants to keep in touch with us. Additionally a Facebook page of NZ alumni was recently created to try to connect with former NZ teens and to learn what former NZ teens are doing. Additionally, Neutral Zone shares what teens are doing through a monthly e-newsletter.

How do I learn about NZ hosted/sponsored events?
The Neutral Zone website ( is updated several times weekly for regular and special events programs. Additionally, several program groups (i.e. B-Side promoters) conduct their outreach for concerts and other events through Facebook and B-Side website.