GREATER GRAND CROSSING — Young women walking into the Gyrls In The H.O.O.D. Reproductive Health Services Center will see a logo of two beautiful Black women dressed to the nines.
One has her hair pressed and framed perfectly around her face with gold hoop earrings and a matching necklace. The other has braids, with gold bands in her hair and edges laid in a delicate swoop. Their lashes are full, their eyebrows are arched and they are meant to convey confidence and comfort.
That’s how Chez Smith, founder of the Gyrls In The H.O.O.D. Foundation, wants the girls who visit the new community space at 605 E. 71st St. to feel when they enter the room, she said.
After months of providing on-the-go services on the South and West sides, Smith’s permanent space opened Monday, where girls can receive menstruation supplies and hygiene products to “experience a period with dignity.”
The center was made possible by an undisclosed grant from philanthropic organization Chicago Beyond.
Young mothers can visit the resource center for diapers and wipes. Students can stop by for free bus cards, assistance with resumes and help to pay college application fees.
Any girl can walk in for just a hug, Smith said.
“When these girls come in and see the logo, this space, I want them to see themselves,” Smith said. “I want them to feel like this is for them and affirmed. When they come in, they’re going to get smiles and hugs and love. If they have a supportive home, they’ll get an extension of that here. If they don’t, this will be it for them.”
When Smith received a call from Chicago Beyond “out of the blue” in November, she thought it was a prank, she said.
Smith had been renting a space at 8517 S. State St. for a few months, but she did most of her work out of her “H.O.O.D. Mobile,” Smith said.
H.O.O.D. stands for Healthy, Optimistic, Outstanding and Determined.
Smith would pull up in front of schools or on girls’ blocks to provide toiletries or words of encouragement. If a girl needed a pregnancy test, she’d help them buy it or take them where they needed to go to get tested, Smith said.
Smith had worked with Chicago Beyond before — its members had supported the organization financially and provided her space to host her Birds, Bees and Beyond sexual health conference.
But when the group members called again and said they wanted to support Smith’s work, she didn’t “take it seriously,” she said.
Then Smith received the funding — a lot of it, she said.
“It’s so meaningful to me,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit down and cry or thank God. You can put your heart and soul into something and be consistent with it, but there’s no guarantee that anything is going to come from that. I feel blessed. It’s like a dream come true.”
Smith bought the Greater Grand Crossing building two days after Christmas.
With the help of program director Venisha Bonds, Smith transformed the former vacant mail dropoff location into a haven for girls.
Smith also owns the two lots on both sides of the building. She’ll use the space for community distribution events “without someone telling me to get lost,” she said.
The University of Chicago, a Gyrls in The H.O.O.D. community partner, will bring its mobile unit to the lots so girls can get checkups for free without hassle or judgment, Smith said.
The Chicago Period Project, a nonprofit that provided services and products to young women, recently disbanded. Organizers gave Smith all their supplies, including a storage unit of goods, she said. She’ll host giveaways for those items at the center, too.
“I don’t know if there are a lot of spaces where girls can walk in and get a hug, some encouragement and pick up some free period supplies, hygiene products and bus cards,” Smith said. “It’s such a huge deal. This is something that’s so needed. Our girls need a place to go with no judgment.”
The girls who visit the reproductive health services center don’t always have to be in search of supplies, Smith said.
The center is there if a girl needs a moment to decompress after a bad day or a safe space to ask a question about sex and health, Smith said.
“If the girls didn’t have a pretty past, they could still have a beautiful future,” Smith said. “It’s at the foundation where we’re going to map things out, and they can see how things are possible. I think it can be life-changing.”
Now that Smith can see anything is possible, “another level of motivation has been unlocked,” she said.
Smith already operates the H.O.O.D. House, a program that provides housing for young, at-risk women, and the Brilliant Brown Boys Book Club.
The Gyrls In The H.O.O.D. pop-up events won’t stop anytime soon, but there’s more work to do be done, Smith said.
Smith’s next goal is to open a resource center in Englewood and on the West Side, Smith said.
“There are hoods everywhere,” Smith said. “These services are needed by girls everywhere.”
The Gyrls In The H.O.O.D. Reproductive Health Services Center is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
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