by Jamilyn Hiskes
LANSING, Ill. (May 27, 2019) – Even though she’s been the Director of the Patti Leach Youth Center (18123 Burnham Ave.) for only two weeks, Aneisha Titsworth already knows the names of many of the children who frequent the center. She says hello to them and even greets some of them with a hug, asking how their days were and introducing herself to those she hasn’t met yet.
“I try to keep a good balance,” Titsworth said. “I’ll step away to do work for a second, but I’ve been out there playing four-square and Uno and balloon pop. I want to be out there with the kids.”
Titsworth has been working with youth for 12 years and was officially installed as the Youth Center’s new director May 6. Since then, she’s settled in comfortably and hasn’t found much about the job she doesn’t like—apart from the outdated interior of the building, which she’s planning on fixing up. To even create her office, she had to clear out a storage room.
“My goal is to get as much fixed in the building as possible and get it looking presentable,” Titsworth said. “We’re going to get some new furniture, some paint. I really want the kids to be excited about what the place looks like. I think that’ll really help in bringing them in.”
Cosmetic changes aren’t the only updates in store. Titsworth wants to utilize a disused stage and a mostly disused “multi-purpose” room, as well as potentially create a teen lounge. She also said she’s applied for numerous grants to help fund more cohesive after-school programs, as well as purchase a vehicle for the center so kids can go on visits to Chicago and elsewhere.
“I want us to get on the road,” Titsworth said. “Not that we don’t love Lansing, because we do, but I want to expose them to things they don’t know and they’ve never seen.”
Pouring into youth
Purchased by the Village of Lansing in 1996 and opened in 1997, the Youth Center has been used by Lansing youth for over 20 years. (See Patti Leach Youth Center celebrates two decades of service, September 2017 article.) It hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, according to Titsworth, and the programming is currently less structured than she’d like. Her plans include having FAFSA nights for high school seniors, having educational classes at the center, and implementing a schedule in August that would allow for homework and study time to blend with “fun” time.
“When they come here, I want them to operate still kind of how they operate at school,” Titsworth said. “Like from 3:30 to 4:30, they’d be reading or doing homework or some kind of educational activity, and then we’d have a snack time at the concessions. …I want them to know this is a place for fun, but we’re going to pour into you as much as possible.”
As a lifelong Lansing resident and former high school teacher, Titsworth said she recognizes the importance of the Youth Center in this community and wants to ensure it’s used to its fullest potential. From her storage-room-turned-office in the corner of the center’s main activity room, she’s been working to fill the center’s June calendar with activities, trips, and even fundraisers. She said she’s already taken a bus load of new TF South graduates to Six Flags and is planning a summer shoe drive.
Once renovations are finished and the programming is full of new, exciting activities, Titsworth said she’d love the opportunity to “re-introduce” Lansing to the Youth Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony of sorts. What’s even more important to her than the building, however, is earning the trust and admiration of the children who visit the center.
“I know how it is with kids, and specifically building relationships with them,” Titsworth said. “Some of them still need work [with opening up]. I definitely want them to come here and know that Aneisha cares, you know?”
Located at 18123 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Illinois, the Patti Leach Youth Center is open 3:30–8:00pm Monday through Friday during the school year and will be open 2:00–7:00pm Monday through Friday during the summer. Year-long memberships for Lansing children in 6th–12th grade are $10.