'Awesome, sweet venue' for teens opens in downtown Naperville
Playing video games on an 80-inch TV while lounging on an L-shaped gray couch is a "dream come true" for some Naperville teens.
The high school students, all board members of the nonprofit group NaperBridge, shared their analysis Thursday during a sneak peek at Naperville's new downtown teen center that will play host to an open house on Saturday.
The 700-square-foot center, decorated in a modern color scheme of lime green and gray with one wood-paneled wall, is designed to offer teens a place to lead, play, perform, create, belong and be empowered. Teen board member Austin Hansen said the cozy space at the rear of the building at 231 S. Washington St. is the perfect location for all those activities and more.
"It's been amazing to see this idea come to life and become reality," Hansen, a senior at Naperville North High School, said. "We have this awesome, sweet venue for people to meet other people and showcase their talents."
Hansen called the one-room center a cross between the library and Starbucks, offering the best of both places and leaving out the worst. It's a study spot to collaborate with peers in a hip environment where silence is not required and neither is buying a coffee or pastry, he said.
After the open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, the space will host high school bands nearly every Friday along with improv comedy classes, art studios, yoga and finals week study sessions.
Andy Jack, NaperBridge's executive director, said the couches and tables will offer drop-in hours for junior high and high school students at separate times.
"We wanted to be a multipurpose space, so everything you see here can disappear in a matter of an hour," Jack said. "We want to be really creative and not be restricted by the space."
Teenage participants get to display their creativity by developing the events they'd like to attend, said Jeff Haake, the president of NaperBridge's board of directors who came up with the teen center idea. Adults, meanwhile, will focus on creating a welcoming place for teens to thrive.
"We want kids to have a safe place to go where there's no pressure on them," Sam Smith, a NaperBridge board member, said.
Many NaperBridge events will be free, but some might come with fees if instructors need to be hired.
NaperBridge has been funded by donations and a seed grant from Community United Methodist Church, although Haake said it is not a church-sponsored program. When that money runs out, NaperBridge will conduct fundraisers.
In the future, NaperBridge looks to collaborate with groups like KidsMatter or 360 Youth Services on heroin education programs.
But for now, Haake and those who had the idea three years ago are satisfied the city's teens have a downtown space designed just for them.
"Teens have never really had a place they can call their own," Haake said, pointing at a wall where the words "lead, play, perform, create, belong and be empowered" are displayed.
"In every way, it's exceeded any of our expectations about what this might become."