Growing up in Honolulu, Rams offensive tackle
While Hunter’s time spent there helped him avoid trouble, he wished he’d spent more time in a different, more educational safe haven: the local library.
“If I had taken advantage of those resources, it would have made my education a lot better,” Hunter said. “Instead I struggled to get to college. Thank God for football, I was able to meet the requirements and then get in.”
That was the message Hunter wanted to convey to a group of students – football and volleyball players – from Riverview Gardens High on Tuesday as the Rams in conjunction with Charter Communications officially opened the new “Teen End Zone” teen center at the Lewis and Clark Branch of the St. Louis County Library.
“For me personally it means a lot,” Hunter said of the new center. “I know exactly what these kids are going through. I just wanted to make sure they got the message that they shouldn’t just be here to be here, try to take advantage of it. I think these guys got it. I spoke from the heart and when you speak from the heart to kids like these especially, the football team, student athletes; for the most part they will grab a hold of the message.”
The new teen center is the 11th such center in the 20 libraries within the St. Louis County Library system and the first involving the Rams and Charter.
The teen spaces are designed specifically with young adults in mind, featuring shelves of books both educational and entertaining, a television with an Xbox and three brand new computers with internet access.
“We’re seeing more and more teens come into our buildings after school,” Jim Bogart, the St. Louis County Library Foundation manager of development/foundation, said. “Libraries have sort of become a ‘cool’ place to come now, whether to hang out, socialize and obviously to study. And teen centers provide a safe, comfortable place to do that. And they own that teen center. They know it’s an area devoted only to teens, for teens, by teens and that makes it extra special.”
Planning for the teen center at the Lewis and Clark location had begun a while back but since funding comes from various sources, it can be difficult for the libraries to find the right fit.
In looking for a project in the north St. Louis area that they could work on, the Rams discovered the Lewis and Clark Library and contacted Charter to see if they wanted to get involved. It turned out to be a perfect match for all three parties.
“It’s been a terrific partnership,” Bogart said. “And the great thing about it is that we think it’s just the beginning. We’re looking forward to continuing the relationship on and on.”
Getting Charter involved was a natural move as the Rams and the communications company have a strong bond that has seen them work together on a number of community projects.
When the Rams brought up the idea of the teen center to Charter, there was no delay in the sides teaming up to make it happen. Considering the technology needs of any library, especially for a center devoted to teenagers and Charter’s track record of dedication to young adults and education, it made even more sense.
“We are involved in a lot of things with the Rams and also involved with a lot of community sponsorship opportunities that involve teenagers and education,” Jessica Hardecke, Charter’s Senior Manager of Communications, said. “It merged well with all of our vision for the community and things we like to do already. Then it just tied in with our partnership with the Rams so it was a win/win from our perspective.”
The impetus for the teen centers began in 2009 as an idea hatched by the St. Louis Library Foundation.
Each teen center is built with a unique design and approach. After funding is secured, the library engages some of their regular teens who go to the library and will be using it on a regular basis to help develop color schemes, pick out furniture and contribute to the overall look and feel of each teen center.
That gives them a sense of ownership in the process and helps them encourage their friends and classmates to put it to use.
Having a special guest such as Hunter to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony has also become something of a tradition. Former First Lady Laura Bush, wife of President George W. Bush, helped raise funds for the Bridgeton chapter in May 2010.
Lynn Beckwith Jr., President of St. Louis County Library District Board of Trustees, said the feedback from teenagers at each of the locations has been nothing but positive and each library and teen center is regularly full.
“You make a place just for them, let them help pick the furniture and colors and so forth, then they come to the library more often,” Beckwith Jr. said. “They love it.”
The Lewis and Clark teen center, of course, is resplendent in Rams blue and gold, including a mural bearing a strong resemblance to one that adorns the wall of the team’s locker room at the Edward Jones Dome.
In the entryway to the teen center is a sign in blue and gold colors and even the furniture is blue and gold. Eventually, the library plans to hang a couple of Rams jerseys in another open space on the wall.
“It shows that they care about this community that teens now have a safe place to come and relax and read and learn that they didn’t have before,” Beckwith said. “They had a library but not a center where it was theirs. It means a lot.”