Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership CEO Karin Norrington-Reaves stands in the reception area of the new Chatham Workforce Center. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

CHATHAM — The Chatham Workforce Center will host a virtual grand opening Tuesday.

The center will give thousands of neighbors a place to get help as they seek new jobs or look to change their careers. Years in the making, the center will have a virtual grand opening at 9:30 Tuesday.

Viewers can learn about the history of the workforce center and watch a discussion with community leaders about its significance. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are scheduled to attend. People can RSVP online.

Upon entering the Chatham Workforce Center, job seekers are greeted with a portrait of an unsung heroine: Betty Howard, a CPS special education teacher. Howard, who was fatally shot in 2014, embodied the spirit of the community and it’s important to honor her, said Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership CEO Karin Norrington-Reaves.

Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership CEO Karin Norrington-Reaves holds her phone, displaying a photo of Betty Howard that will soon hang in the entryway of the Chatham Workforce Center. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

Norrington-Reaves said that though she never met Howard, getting to know her family in the months following the tragedy made her feel as though she did. It was on the heels of Howard’s death that residents and local leaders like Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) came together to lay the groundwork for what would become the Greater Chatham Initiative, an organization focused on spurring economic development and opportunity.

Norrington-Reaves, a Chatham resident, was one of the first to join.

“We were all challenged to do something. Everybody asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ And I said, ‘Listen, I can bring workforce services here, but I need a space,'” she said.

Chatham’s new workforce center aims to serve thousands of residents a year. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

The team settled on a long-vacant building at 640 E. 79th St. They struggled to acquire the building and work through the coronavirus pandemic — but two angel investors, millionaire couple Steve and Jessica Sarowitz, stepped in, buying the building and turning it over to Greater Chatham Initiative.

The facility will serve residents in Chatham, Avalon Park, Greater Grand Crossing and Auburn Gresham, with the aim of helping thousands of job seekers each year. People can come for help whether they’re just starting their careers or exploring a change after years in a specific field.

The center is partnering with AARP on a Back to Work 50 Plus initiative to target the growing number of older people who have found themselves locked out of the job industry.

The first floor of the center will focus on training and classroom instruction, with faculty from the Jane Addams Resource Corporation and Richard M. Daley Community College leading courses in AutoCAD and manufacturing.

The second floor will house the Greater Chatham Initiative office and a resource center that will connect students and residents to employment opportunities.

The multipurpose room was built with help from a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

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