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Teens in Orland Park welcome holiday with ugly Christmas sweaters

Ugly Christmas sweaters, PJ’s & slippers set the scene at the Bridge Teen Center’s Friday night program.

The after-school activities, sponsored by Moraine Valley Community College, vary each week in accordance with a theme.

This time, area teens dropped in for everything from ornament decorating and Christmas movie trivia, to treats from Dunkin’ Donuts and an ugly Christmas sweater contest.

“This happens to be lining up with the holiday,” said Joy Lavens, the center’s director of programming and student care.

The Bridge Teen Center recently organized a shopping trip to its thrift store. There, students were provided an opportunity to purchase an ugly Christmas sweater or other gifts.

Lavens said they were hoping students would bring their ugly Christmas sweaters back to Friday’s program.

“We’ll be looking to see who’s going all out for the night,” she said.

Ian Piet, 14, of Tinley Park was among the first students to enter the door. He said the holiday season is traditionally a big time of year for his family.

“We watch a lot of Christmas movies,” he said.

Piet said his mother made his ugly Christmas sweater. He wore a green, black and white sweater depicting a cat getting shocked by Christmas lights.

“It’s a funny scene in a movie,” Piet said.

Katelyne Medlik, 15, of Tinley Park, said she had been looking forward to coming out to the Bridge Teen Center since the beginning of the week.

Medlik, who donned a reindeer nightgown, said she loves getting into the spirit of the holiday season.

“It’s comfy,” she said. “I just decided to wear it for the holidays.”

Patrick Sullivan, 15, of Tinley Park, said he’s been feeling the spirit of the holidays. He wore a sweater with an eye-glass wearing reindeer that lights up. Sullivan said he was hoping to win the ugly Christmas sweater contest.

“It was the coolest one on the shelf,” he said. “I liked it. It just lit up.”

On average, Friday night programming brings in between 150 and 200 teens, program leaders said. The Bridge Teen Center is open to students enrolled seventh grade through high school living in the Orland Park area.

“They can come with their friends or other students,” Lavens said. “Schools will carpool together.”

Lavens said it’s difficult to gauge how many students participate from one week to the next.

The Bridge Teen Center strives to be flexible with student schedules, program leaders said. Students are not typically required to RSVP to attend Friday night programming.

Lavens credited the work of volunteers and staff for making sure that programming runs accordingly. She was not surprised to see to students get into the spirt of the season.

“We have a lot of themed nights and activities that students go all out for,” Lavens said.

The Bridge Teen Center encourages students to express themselves. Lavens said they work to provide a mix of different themes to pique student interest, whether it’s focused on arts, sports, games or movies.

“I think it does create another element where students can come and connect with one another to where, maybe at school, they don’t get the freedom to wear goofy things and just be a teenager,” she said.

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