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YOUmedia: When a Teen Space Transforms into a Sanctuary

“YOUmedia was there when I needed support the most. If it weren’t for the librarians, mentors, and friends, I wouldn’t be here.” – Erik

His smile – that was the first thing I noticed about Erik when I met him. The way his lips lifted upward. The way his one dimple crinkled. The crease below the eyes as he introduced himself politely. “I’m just thrilled to be back at YOUmedia,” he said with heartfelt sincerity.
Now an incoming sophomore at DePaul University, he doesn’t get to visit as often as he wants. For Erik, returning to what has been his haven for the past five years is a coming home of sorts.

“YOUmedia helped me in more ways than librarians would know. I hope they realize the positive impact they have on me,” he shares candidly.

Feeling safe at the Library
Erik’s affection for the library began long before he was a teenager. “Reading used to be a challenge for me. When I was in fourth grade, I read at a first-grade level,” he recalls. It was his teacher, Ms. Ruiz, who patiently worked with him. She also encouraged then 10-year-old Erik to visit the library.  “I fell in love with the Library instantly. We didn’t have a lot of books at home, so I came to the Back of the Yards branch and practiced reading every day. The librarians were also patient with me whenever I asked for help,” he reminisces.
Soon enough, Erik finds himself thriving in school. When he reached fifth grade, he was already reading at a sixth-grade level. “The Library became a safe space for me to read without being judged,” he discloses.
At 13, Erik was a regular at the library. One day, while renewing his library card, YOUmedia mentor Jaime invited him to check the teen space.  “While touring YOUmedia, I couldn’t help but be amazed that there’s this special place for teens at the Library. I started coming every week since then,” he tells me.
During his stay at YOUmedia, Erik enjoyed reading manga (Japanese comic books), participating in book clubs, and organizing discussions. Their topics ranged from the quirky (How long could you survive in a zombie apocalypse?) to the consequential (What are your plans after high school?) “I love meeting new people and showing them around YOUmedia,” he beams.
Erik would also volunteer in organizing activities and help other teens with their homework.
What makes YOUmedia home
To Erik, YOUmedia is more than just the physical space; it’s the people that have become his pillar of support, especially during the most trying time of his teen life. “My mother passed away during my freshman year, and I suffered from anxiety and depression. YOUmedia pulled me back up,” he shares.  With mentors and friends rallying around him, Erik was able to go beyond what he thought to be his limitations.
“Simple words of encouragement like ‘Erik, you did a good job!’ or ‘Erik, you were great today!’ meant the world to me. They sparked a light in me to keep moving forward.”
The positive impact of YOUmedia inspired Erik so much that he has become one of YOUmedia’s most passionate champions—inviting friends and schoolmates to visit the space. “Whenever I meet fellow teens, I would encourage them to go to the Library and check out YOUmedia. All I want is for other people to find their sanctuary here the way I found mine,” he shares.
It is this sense of gratitude that led Erik to major in math and education. “I want to be a high school math teacher so I could inspire teens to do better and be better,” he says with determination. “YOUmedia mentors, along with my teachers, took a chance on a kid like me and now, I’m in a really good place,” he says.  And with that signature smile, Erik continues, “I want to pay the compassion I have received forward.”

YOUmedia has been a safe space for teens like Erik to grow and express themselves with the guidance of librarians, mentors, and fellow teens. Join us as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this transformative program on September 28.

A special shoutout to BMO Harris Bank, Allstate, the James & Madeleine McMullan Family Foundation, the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Comcast, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Museum of Science and Industry, Oppenheimer Family Foundation, and other generous supporters of the Foundation for their commitment to Chicago’s teens. You, too, can provide teens with a safe space to create, explore, and learn.

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