PRINCETON — Jeff VanAutreve of Second Story Teen Center in Princeton was one of five recipients in the United States to receive a $5,000 grant for his efforts to make a difference in the local community.
VanAutreve was nominated by a friend for the Sub Abover grant from Jersey Mike’s Subs, a sandwich chain franchise based in Manasquan, New Jersey. There were 2,600 nominations for the five $5,000 grants.
VanAutreve’s friend wrote that in 2009, Princeton was seeing a rise in the number of teen suicides.
“Since the town had limited resources to address the complexity and number of issues at-risk youth were facing and lacked a positive, safe place for teens to gather outside of school, leaving a gap for youth to engage in high risk behaviors. In response, Jeff and his wife, Dana, turned the second story of their flooring shop into a space where teens could hang out and named it Second Story — based not only on the location, but on the idea that everyone has a second story and chance to rewrite the narrative to their own future,” added VanAutreve’s friend.
Jeff VanAutreve said they started slow with “maybe four teens coming in the first six months.” Today, the center offers free programs on Tuesday and Friday nights, serving 50 to 150 sixth-grade through high school seniors in Bureau County each night. Seven hundred children have checked in during the last two years.
Most importantly, “suicide rates are astonishingly lower,” said VanAutreve, who stressed that it’s been a community-wide initiative to make a difference in teen suicide.
“I grew up in a harsh family environment and, in second grade, someone took a chance on me,” said VanAutreve. “It stuck in my mind. If I could give back, I wanted to do that.”
VanAutreve said, “It takes more than my wife and me to do what we do, and we appreciate our volunteers so much. You may not think volunteering is important, but it is. Volunteer your time — if you have passion for that cause, you’ll be hooked.”
VanAutreve said that their annual food expenses alone are $11,000 so “the grant is a huge thing.” They may use the funds to increase security to the center. “You can’t believe how happy we are!” he said.
“It’s inspiring to read the stories of so many who are making a difference in someone’s life,” said Rich Hope, chief marketing officer, Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc., in a press release.
“That’s been a guiding principle of Jersey Mike’s since our founder Peter Cancro bought his first sub shop at the age of 17, and we’re happy to recognize Jeff for fulfilling that vision.”
The other four recipients of the $5,000 grants were Lara Lopez, Kids Kupboard Ministry, Lantana, Texas; Mariah Smith, Blankets for the Homeless, Virginia Beach, Virginia.; Rody Thompson, PeaceJam Southeast Director, Center for Leadership and Social Change at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida; and Jim and Terri Wasley, Meg’s Smile Foundation, Holly Springs, North Carolina.
This March is Jersey Mike’s eighth annual Month of Giving fundraising initiative, when more than 1,371 Jersey Mike’s locations across the country are joining forces with more than 170 local charities. Last year’s Month of Giving raised more than $5.5 million for local charities nationwide, and this year Jersey Mike’s wants to break last year’s record-setting total.
The campaign culminates in the Day of Giving, on Wednesday, March 28, when Jersey Mike’s owners and operators will donate their resources and every single dollar that comes in to local charities. For more information on participating restaurants and charity partners, visit www.jerseymikes.com/mog/charities.
The closest Jersey Mike’s Subs to Bureau County are in DeKalb and East Peoria with one planned to open this June at 4341 Venture Drive in Peru, according to the company’s website.