Dan Stinnett has been recognized as Greatest Person of the Day on Huffington Post, a feature that spotlights ordinary and extraordinary people in Patch communities whose acts of courage, determination, volunteerism and compassion have made a difference in their towns. These are people who inspire and energize others to strengthen their communities and improve lives.
Twenty-seven, living at home and barely making an income. It’s not an uncommon story these days, but for Dan Stinnett it’s a choice.
The director of New Lenox’s community youth center, , set aside the job hunt a few years ago when he realized local teens didn’t have a safe, fun place to go on weekends.
Enter The Hub, a place that offers concerts, private parties, games and more.
Stinnett was raised in New Lenox, and as a kid he spent a lot of nights involved with his church or doing school work. He didn’t worry that there wasn’t a whole lot to do around here. After graduating in 2006 from Olivet Nazarene University with degrees in biology and Spanish, he came back to town and substitute-taught at the Lincoln-Way High Schools.
"It was during that time that I really saw the need for kids to have somewhere to go," he said. "I never saw breakdowns or fighting, but you get a sense from the look in their eyes and can tell there’s something not right. Idleness leads to problems."
That’s when Stinnett started trying to find something, anything he could do. He talked to a lot of youth leaders in the area and found a glaring hole in their time spent mentoring children: weekends. Many of them have families, after all, and work full time during the week.
"Everybody needs a few days off," Stinnett said. "I could approach it with a lot of flexibility and free time and really make a commitment"
He’s done more than make a commitment — The Hub is his life. He works at least a 40-hour week but pays himself only $5,000 every year—less than he spent last year on new sound equipment—so he can keep The Hub afloat.
A partner at The Hub manages the lighting and sound during shows, but Stinnett handles just about everything else, from booking bands to balancing budgets to cleaning toilets. He recognizes the sacrifice, but says he simply lives a frugal life to do what he loves, and is also fortunate to have things like college bills and car payments settled.
"People’s lives are much more valuable than income," he said. "If that’s something I have to go without for the time being, it’s OK because I’m just doing what I feel is best."
It Takes a Community
That sacrifice was never bigger than this summer when Will County shut down The Hub temporarily to sort out zoning issues. It turned out that The Hub, currently set up in a warehouse, wasn’t properly zoned for the industrial area. So Stinnett has had to shell out a big chunk of the operating budget to pay for special-use permits and other upgrades to the facility—well over the five grand he allots himself.
The Hub brings in about $34,000 a year, according to profit and loss statement provided by Stinnett. But that dwindles quickly with payments for utilities, insurance, equipment, band fees and more.
About $13,000 of the revenue is cash sales from snacks, pop or the $5 admission. But Stinnett knows some kids don’t have the money to get into shows and sometimes lets people in free of charge.
"There are lots of kids who don’t really fit into any category of identity. To them, I’d say that’s OK. Those are some of the kids that really fit into The Hub."
It’s that all-inclusive attitude that’s proven the youth center a part of the community, evidenced by the way residents rallied around The Hub when it had to close this summer. Stinnett said anonymous donors sent checks for $500 and $1,000. He made about $3,500 from a charity golf outing at Sanctuary Golf Course. And when it came time to plead his case for a special use permit to the Will County Board, some people spoke in support of re-opening The Hub.
"This has been a life-changing experience. It’s a great place for students to have a safe environment," said Caleb Abbott, Lincoln-Way North student, during the meeting.
Because Stinnett is still young, he can connect with local teens ("They don’t want to hang out with their parents on the weekend.") but still be a positive adult influence. He recalls countless children who have come by The Hub and he’s seen make incredible strides.
And parents have noticed the influence. When The Hub was shutting down, a local mom who runs a backyard movie business offered to donate a movie night to raise some money.
"I love Dan," Movies in Motion owner Debbie Ryan said. "He comes over here and talks to my boys and is always just so positive. They go out (to The Hub), they play in the band.”
Plans for the Future
Although the issues this summer were stressful, the community’s support has reinvigorated Stinnett and shown the larger influence he can have here. To keep showing that impact, he recently started a parental support group that will primarily help plan fundraisers for The Hub.
Stinnett said six parents came to a meeting in early October, and there was another meeting held last week. On Nov. 20, there was an adults-only concert to show parents the atmosphere offered to their kids every weekend.
"It's been an encouragement personally to meet with other people who care about my mission," he said. "You feel kind of alone out there, and it’s good to hear how much it means to them."