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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Rogers Park Community Center Goes Digital To Meet Neighbors’ Needs

The Howard Area Community Center has had to rethink every program and service, including its annual fundraiser.

Local nonprofits like the Howard Area Community Center are having to retool on the fly during coronavirus.
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ROGERS PARK — For 50 years, the Howard Area Community Center has served as a one-stop shop for Rogers Park kids and adults.

But with coronavirus causing a shutdown of its building — and causing more need among the community — the nonprofit at 7648 N. Paulina St. is having to digitally retool to meet demand.

“It used to be if people had an issue, they’d come to us, they’d see a person and get help,” said Maxine Bailey, development director at Howard Area Community Center. “All these programs have had to pivot to provide service in a whole new way.”

The Howard Area Community Center offers a variety of community services, including adult education, domestic violence help, assistance for newly released prisoners and youth programming.

But with in-person services no longer on the table, the nonprofit is getting creative to keep the programs running.

One of the center’s most popular programs is its technology clubhouse, where Rogers Park kids can use computers to work on projects and gain new skills. With the clubhouse closed, the center’s employees created a virtual clubhouse for kids to stay connected.

The virtual space includes different “rooms” for kids to chat with friends, get help with projects and hone their technology skills, Bailey said. The online clubhouse is staffed 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

“Kids were creating great stuff, but then the doors closed,” Bailey said. “The challenge is the clubhouse was the place to access technology, and they might not have it at home.”

Historically, the community center has helped people by furthering their education or landing a job. Now, the nonprofit is focused on more immediate needs, like getting people food and helping them file for unemployment, Bailey said.

The food pantry, seeing increased demand, can no longer operate like a grocery store, Bailey said. To ensure social distance is maintained, groceries must be delivered by a large group of volunteers.

“We’re reaching new people,” Bailey said. “One of things were seeing is more working poor. There’s sometimes a feeling of shame [in seeking assistance]. We have to be sure we’re sensitive to that.”

The Howard Area Community Center is also having to take its biggest annual fundraiser to an online setting. Planned for 6 p.m. Friday, the fundraiser will include a virtual toast, videos of community center employees and clients and a silent auction.

One benefit of going online only: More people have RSVP’d to the fundraiser than in years past, Bailey said.

“It’s not perfect,” Bailey said of the virtual efforts. “But we’re optimistic.”

For more on the community center’s virtual fundraiser, click here.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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