ENGLEWOOD — The shuttered site of the former Benjamin Mays Academy, one of 50 schools closed by CPS in 2013, is now home to the Center of Englewood, a collection of community-driven organizations serving the neighborhood.
The center will celebrate its grand opening noon to 3 p.m. Saturday with free food, a book giveaway, activities for kids and guided tours. Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th), who lent his support to the project, is scheduled to appear for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The building is owned and managed by Shepherd’s HOPE, a faith-based nonprofit started by northwest suburbanite Brian Anderson, who has operated a food pantry and feeding center out of a small bungalow in Englewood for the last decade.
Shepherd’s HOPE scouted sites for three years before purchasing the shuttered elementary school for $55,000 in 2018, said Lynne Sell, the organization’s board secretary. They started moving in tenants April 1.
Outside of replacing the copper wire stolen a day before the organization closed on the property, there haven’t been many changes made, Sell said.
“We’re excited that we can provide a whole variety of services in this building that’s been closed for seven years and sort of brought it back to life, and the community is responding very positively,” Sell said.
The center at 838 W. Marquett Roade will house nine faith-based community service organizations: By the Hand Club for the Kids, a “Christ-centered, holistic” after-school program; First Defense Legal Aid Clinic; Gods End Times Church; Impact Family Center; New Health Medical Clinic; Pass It On Academy, an affordable day care facility; Shepherd’s HOPE Family Feeding Center; Shepherd’s HOPE Food Pantry; and Xperience Church.
“Some of the organizations we’d already had in mind because we’ve been partnering with them for the last 10 years,” Sell said. “And in the three-year process of trying to find a new location, other organizations were brought into our line of sight.”
Sell said Sawyer loved the idea from the very beginning, writing a letter of recommendation and offering his full support. But navigating city departments has been a bit of a headache, including getting a certificate of occupancy. That process was slow because no major structural changes were made, Sell said, and that ended up delaying a loan approval.
Shepherd’s HOPE is in the process of getting a waiver from CPS.
In 2013, Mays’ 308 students were moved to nearby Benjamin Banneker Elementary School at 6656 S. Normal Ave. as part of CPS’s sweeping restructuring plan that resulted in the highest number of closed schools in U.S. history.
“There were a lot of these schools up for sale, and people buy them and let them sit and don’t do anything with them, and this was their way of preventing that,” Sell said. “Unfortunately, we got caught on the wrong side. We weren’t turning the building into apartments or totally changing anything.”
Still, Shepherd is looking forward to Saturday’s grand opening and hopes to bring more faith-based organizations into the fold.
“We’re expecting attendance to be in the hundreds,” Sell said. “We’ve been handing out fliers to the people who come to the pantry and the feeding center, where we see about 200 people a day. We’re preparing for 800.”