NaperBridge—Naperville’s New Teen Center

May 2014 View more

Austin Hansen, NaperBridge Student/Community Liaison; Kara Mason, Executive Director

Austin Hansen, NaperBridge Student/Community Liaison;
Kara Mason, Executive Director

As you walk into NaperBridge, the first thing you notice is the huge 80-inch television on the back wall in front of a large couch. An adjacent wall displays inspirational words like: Lead, play, perform, create, belong and be empowered. You quickly get the idea that this cozy 700-square-foot space is specifically designed for teens to hang out and have fun.

NaperBridge, which opened last November, is the brainchild of Naperville resident Jeff Haake. Inspired by his pastor’s call to make a difference in the community, Haake, and a group of friends, decided to create a place in downtown Naperville that teens could call their own.

Located at 231 S. Washington Street, NaperBridge offers daily drop-in times for junior high and high school students attending District 203 and 204 schools. Students are required to register on their initial visit and bring back a registration form signed by their parents upon their second visit.

During the open drop-in times, students can study or relax in front of the TV. “A lot of kids drop by after school, bring food in from local restaurants and work on homework,” says Program Manager Melissa Hurley. Teens can also play Xbox or a variety of available board games.

“One of our goals at NaperBridge is to enable students to try new things that they wouldn’t normally be able to do, in a safe and welcoming environment,” explains Executive Director Kara Mason. By partnering with local businesses, NaperBridge offers a variety of free programs such as painting, yoga, and cooking classes. On select evenings, this multipurpose facility is a popular venue for teen garage band performances. “It’s really an awesome lounge for teens to hang out with friends, meet other people, and showcase their talents,” says Austin Hansen, a Naperville North senior. In addition to hosting bands, variety nights, and on-site Xbox tournaments, NaperBridge holds larger social functions at the Barn Recreation Center.

Mason calls NaperBridge a new and refreshing idea and hopes that it will have a positive impact on the community. “It’s a unique concept. Because we are an independent organization, we can modify our plan based on the needs of the community,” she explains.

“I loved the idea from the very start,” says Hansen, who also serves as a member of the student advisory board. As a youth juror for the Naperville Police Department, Hansen sees a great need for a teen center. “Whenever we ask first time offenders why they broke the law – whether it was for a curfew violation or drug abuse – nine times out of 10 they said it was because they were bored and had nothing better to do.” Hansen says before NaperBridge, there really wasn’t a place that was a destination for kids to go and be independent for free. “Now we have a place that’s like a home away from home right in downtown Naperville.”

NaperBridge is a nonprofit organization funded through grants, business partnerships, and fundraising. In addition to its staff, NaperBridge is governed by a Board of Directors, led by Haake, as well as two student advisory boards comprised of local high school and junior high school students.

Community members are invited to volunteer in the lounge during drop-in hours to supervise activities and provide academic support. Adults are also welcome to teach kids a new skill or offer a free class. When NaperBridge hosts larger events, more volunteers are needed to chaperone in order to maintain a student/staff ratio of 10:1. Teens are also encouraged to apply to serve on the student advisory boards.

NaperBridge May Open Drop-in Times:

Monday-Friday: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Visit for event information as well as upcoming extended summer hours.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon