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Everyday Hero: Brenda Napholz

Son’s drug scare inspires Crystal Lake woman to give teens a place to go

Brenda Napholz helped start The Break, a teen center designed to give kids a place to go to hang out. The idea coalesced after years of coaching junior high-aged runners and one of her sons becoming addicted to heroin.
Brenda Napholz helped start The Break, a teen center designed to give kids a place to go to hang out. The idea coalesced after years of coaching junior high-aged runners and one of her sons becoming addicted to heroin.

The problems seem to start in middle school, a sense of discontent that drives children to alcohol, marijuana and heroin.

That was Crystal Lake resident Brenda Napholz’s theory at least.

She had been coaching middle-school aged children in running for about a decade, developing a passion in building up her children and watching the drastic changes they go through between sixth and ninth grades.

But when one of her sons became addicted to heroin, she decided to create an alternative.

“This started because I basically saw that there was a need in the area for the kids to have a place to go,” Napholz said. “A lot of kids that weren’t in some traditional sports, traditional music programs, kids with a lot of talent and creativity didn’t have a place of their own.”

Napholz started The Break, opening shop in a strip mall on Route 14, with the help of her husband, Tom, a variety of friends from the running community, and a core group of 15 children, mostly friends of her youngest child, Robby, 16.

Napholz also has an 18-year-old son, Steve Napholz, and a 22-year-old son, Paul Napholz, whose recently had a daughter, Sadie, with his girlfriend, Amanda Jaeger.

The Break opens onto a sitting area, a collection of large-cushioned couches, and a check-in desk. Memberships are $15 and available to high school students.

A hallway – one side covered in chalkboard paint that the teens can fill with graffiti – leads to a large room filled with pool tables, gaming consoles and a screen projector. Smaller rooms specialize in art and music.

The plan is to have jam sessions each month, along with whatever else the members think up and the volunteer staff can arrange.

“They [the kids] are invested in it,” Napholz said. “They helped put it together. They’ve got the ideas. They do some of the marketing. They do a lot of that stuff. That’s how we keep it what they want.”

And it appears to be working.

Membership has climbed to 150 teens, and Napholz hopes to open the center to middle-school children this year.

Napholz sees her main job as supervising and making sure the children stay safe while at The Break. After that, it’s all about making what the children hope to do possible through partnerships with individuals and other organizations.

The community has made The Break and everything it offers possible, Napholz said. But the community also has made The Break necessary.

“There’s that pressure to be perfect,” she said. “You got to be perfect. You know, we’ve got all the books to tell us how to be perfect. We’ve got enough money to put you in the right camps to be perfect. We’ve got enough money to put you in the right ACT to be perfect. But you know what? That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, and when they fall short, it can come out in a lot of different ways.”

Napholz spent her junior high and high school years in Las Vegas, where she went to good but much more diverse schools. A go-with-the-flow person, she said she probably wouldn’t have gone to college except that her mom filled out the form and had her sign it.

She attended Drake University in Des Moines, which is where she met her husband, an Elk Grove Village native.

Not long after getting married and getting her first job, Napholz transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom, volunteering for the parent-teacher organizations and eventually spinning off one of their track meet events into a running club, which then transformed into a business.

Her income from Fast Finish Coaching, which she co-owns with Cari Setzler, funds The Break, and her experience there is why she’s passionate about bringing junior high school students into The Break.

“Anytime I’m around her, her focus is really on the kids,” said Sara Ryerson, who nominated Napholz for Everyday Heroes and whose two boys went through Napholz’s running program.

Napholz offers a program aimed at teaching nutrition and stretching, doing their best and meeting their goals, Ryerson said, adding that her noncompetitive bent sets her apart from other youth sports programs in the area.

“That’s my thing, where they’re at, not where we want them to be,” Napholz said.

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