Group wants teen center in downtown Naperville

Posted7/13/2013 8:00 AM

Teens are at once everywhere and nowhere in downtown Naperville. They want to spend time in the city's central business district, yet have no specific place to call their own.

Leaders of a new nonprofit group called Naperbridge say they're looking to solve that dilemma by establishing a teen center downtown.


"It was our vision from the very beginning to create a space -- a welcoming, safe place -- where the kids from Naperville can hang out," said Jeff Haake, board president of Naperbridge, which gained nonprofit status last month.

"They're already hanging out downtown, so why not give them a safe and welcoming place to belong?" said Andy Jack, Naperbridge's executive director.

As the new organization searches for the perfect space downtown, it is beginning to sponsor events like a "Barn Show" battle of the bands at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Barn Recreation Center, 421 W. Martin Ave., and a "Comedy Cage Match" improv show Aug. 13.

The events are helping Naperbridge build a community and develop future plans for the teen center's environment, setup and program offerings based on student interests.

"The board and I see it as an opportunity to empower Naperville teens to make this space their own," Jack said.

Tuesday's teen-focused show is a battle of the bands featuring Bro Spice, a punk rock band including Naperbridge student board members Kevin and Michael Drake, twins heading into their senior year at Naperville North High School. Tickets are $3 in advance from the Naperville Park District office at 320 W. Jackson Ave. or, or $5 at the door.

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Kevin Drake said he attended Naperbridge's first event -- a "Battle of the Bass" DJ competition in June -- and has been intrigued by the idea of a downtown teen center since he first met with Jack.

"Right now, there's not a specific place where teens can hang out where it's just for teens," he said. "With this, it's specifically a place for high school and junior high kids to hang out and have a place to be."

The guitarist for Bro Spice, a band named as a spoof off men's hygiene company Old Spice and not the Spice Girls of 1990s pop fame, Kevin said a dedicated teen center could help his peers connect with others from different schools or with different styles.

"I think it's a great place to meet people and kind of break out of cliques," Kevin said.

Teens like the Drake brothers are helping Naperbridge complete plans for a teen center, but Haake said the idea began developing about three years ago. He remembers being motivated by his pastor's message during a church service about changing the world.


"He said, 'Take that dilapidated building next to Burger King, tear it down, and put up a youth center,'" Haake said. "That really stuck with me."

A 54-year-old retired investment banker who now has a master's in theology and ethics, Haake said he almost took the pastor's example literally. He said he held talks with North Central College before the school bought the "dilapidated building next to Burger King" at 430 S. Washington St. and demolished it in January for development of a park.

While finding a location that provides a wide open space for teens to gather remains a challenge for Naperbridge, choosing a name for the organization came naturally, Haake said.

Naperbridge is an allusion to the "bridge sitters," groups of Naperville teens who would sit on the old stone bridge at Washington Street and the West Branch of the DuPage River during the 1960s and '70s.

"They weren't always the kind of kids your parents wanted you to be hanging around with," Haake said.

But they were there, making downtown Naperville their own. Haake, who grew up in Naperville, said the bridge sitters now are adults who want their own kids to have a better spot to spend time together.

"Kids have been hanging around downtown Naperville for generations," he said. "And really there's no place for them to go."

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