Regina Townsend sits calmly in her chair amidst the chaotic after-school rush to the teen center which is tucked into a corner of the subterranean floor of the Forest Park Library. Townsend only breaks her passive voice to shush passing adolescents as they enter the center for the weekly movie screening they have on Fridays. She humbly responds to questions about the teen center she runs, even though it’s clear she is its most influential participant.
It was almost three years ago (the space turns three on May 14) former librarian Susan Farnum and the current Youth Services Manager of the FPPL started the teen center after realizing that teens “needed a space where they could be a little bit louder, study independently away from the younger kids, socialize a bit more and use the library as a third space,” explained Townsend. Townsend has been working for the Forest Park Public Library and functioning as the Teen Center’s coordinator and outreach librarian since the space opened and is most certainly its strongest advocate.
“You have where you work, you have where you sleep and then you have your third space where you feel comfortable and entertained,” Townsend described. “I think for a lot of teens who come here, the library is their third space.”
In order to keep the space organized and provide a voice for the teen community, the Teen Advisory Board was created and a Service Club meets in the center every Tuesday. Townsend was very adamant about allowing the teens to speak their minds.
“What I try to do is make sure they are heard,” she said. “This is a place where there is not so much opposition and I can actually hear what they are trying to say. A lot them feel like, especially in school it’s like instantly you feel like you can’t be yourself.”
“Here, if they have a problem with something, they can come to me,” she added.
High School student Dylan Daly, who has been coming to the library since the fifth grade certainly felt the center and Townsend allowed him and his peers to be a part of the process.
“We help with some of the functions and do service projects here,” Daly said. The group is currently working on designing onesies for infants at a local Chicago hospital.
Not only does the center and Townsend bring structure and productivity into the space, it most certainly serves its purpose recreationally.
“You come here after a long day of school and a bunch of people just sit and hang out with each other, it’s a stress reliever,” said Daly. “Without (Townsend), there wouldn’t be all these games and activities,” said fellow highschooler Rodrick Samuel.
“It would just be boring. Many of the teens who come here wouldn’t have much else to do around Forest Park without the center,” he added.
When asked about what he’d do if he didn’t have the space, Samuel replied that “Well, there’s a McDonald’s down the street so sometimes we would hang there, but we would always come chill here afterwards. If we wouldn’t come here we’d probably just go home.”
It became apparent that without Townsend, the space would certainly be in disarray. Security and maintenance worker Mike Lay, who has also been part of the support web for the groups of teens, spoke about just how valuable Townsend was to the center.
“I can tell you without hesitation I think we’d all fall apart for a long time if she just left,” he said as he stacked chairs in the reading room.
“She’s been a bridge between different cultures, age groups. I’ve seen her get kids who would rather punch a book, than read a book.”
What seemed to be a hectic study and play space that was more rowdy than productive, proves to be a genuine community of young people who just needed a place to feel safe after school and have their opinions taken into account. It’s very clear that Regina Townsend and the teen center staff provide exactly that.