The Hub—The Community Center That Could
After being forced to close while getting up to county code, Dan Stinnett plans to re-open The Hub by mid-September. The popular hangout for area youths has been closed on-and-off for more than a year.
The problem that has plagued teenagers for eons is that they have no place to simply hang out. There are signs everywhere that read: No Loitering, No Skateboarding, No Parking and more.
It's tough even on parents that welcome the crowd regularly to their homes. The reality is that any time there's a large group of boys and girls gathered socially, there's going to be loud music, some roughhouse and a lot of flirting going on.
The 5,400-square-foot facility in the unincorporated industrial area on Schoolhouse Road was shuttered in December 2011 after originally closing that summer.
But now it's slated to reopen no later than mid-September and just in time for those Saturday nights when kids need a place to hang.
The problem Stinnett faced was that he had no special use permit from Will County to operate a community center in an industrial park. The facility had been open since 2008, but he was unaware of the legality.
Even after he gained approval in November 2011 from the Will County Board and scraped together enough money for the $3,750 permit, he lacked the funds to bring the building into compliance. The Hub shuttered its doors the next month.
But with persistence and support from The Hub's board members, community members and donors, Stinnett has managed to bring the building up to code. It took several thousand dollars and a lot of work to complete the repairs, he added.
So what goes on at The Hub?
In a yet unorganized warehouse, Stinnett sat on a folding chair in front of stage that's built up about 4 feet from the floor, a set of drums and a couple sound boards. The Hub, he explained, is a place where kids are welcome.
On Saturday nights, the doors are open from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Then, anybody under 18 has to leave. The place essentially closes then, but if a good conversation is flowing or a video game competition is underway, those old enough can hang out while everything gets cleaned up.
The reason The Hub draws crowds that range from a handful to 160 is twofold. When a band or bands are booked, the place sees a lot of action. But there's something more meaningful here, he said.
The Hub was created because Stinnett, who at the age of 27 is not that much older than the crowd he serves and supervises, recognized in teens that sense of wanting to be accepted, to relax about their body image or whether or not they're popular.
"I was planning to go into the medical field, and then I realized that my heart wasn't for medicine. My heart was for people in a different setting." After graduation, he worked as a substitute teacher at Liberty and Martino Junior High Schools as well as the schools in Lincoln-Way High School District 210.
Read our Greatest Person profile of Stinnett, "The Hub Director Sacrifices Livelihood to Serve Local Teens."
"I started this organization when I was 23. I saw students and I saw a need for them to have a place to go. They need a place where they can be themselves…They don't have to be with each other to come. They can come alone and meet friends."
The atmosphere is intentionally unstructured, Stinnett said. Of course, there are schedules for the bands, most of which are local—some are in high school and others are made up of young adults with a bit more musical polish. But mostly it's a community center.
"It's only a $5 cover charge, and if a kid doesn't have the money, we let them in anyway," he added.
The Hub does not take the place of church youth group or an organized club activity. It's all about giving someone a chance to breathe, to look around, and to figure out what he or she likes.
Sometimes the events are geared for junior high students, but mostly it's for high school and post-high school kids.
"They can just be who they are or take time to figure that out," he said. "Some kids tell us that they're using drugs or participating in those kinds of behaviors. They can't do here, but we don't lecture them. We hope that they'll look around and see that they can have fun without that."
And Stinnett added that he makes sure that kids are not romantically wrapped up together. ("It makes people uncomfortable.")
As for the music selections, he said, The Hub has a reasonable variety of music. It's the kind that most of the kids appreciate. And if they don't want to stand in the concert area, there are plenty of video games, air hockey and a foosball table. There's a bar for serving chips and soft drinks and an extra room for smaller groups looking to sit around and talk.
Occasionally Stinnett will open the facility on a Thursday or Friday night, but mostly it's about giving kids a place to go on Saturday night.
Stinnett emphasized that The Hub doesn't run on his back alone.
"There's a lot of volunteer effort that goes into keeping it up," he said. "I don't do it alone."
Board member Demetrius Karros and Rick Abbott, both of Frankfort, are parents and volunteers. Karros is the treasurer, and he owns Law Offices of Demetrius Karos in Frankfort, and Abbott runs Chicago Consultants.com in Frankfort.
At present, he said, "I'm looking for fundraising opportunities" and more volunteers. The facility earns some money when it's rented for showers or parties that are not planned for a Saturday night. The Hub is anticipated to grow in popularity, he said, and there is a big need for helping hands.