A visualization of the North Lawndale Employment Network's workforce campus. Credit: Provided

NORTH LAWNDALE — A job training center serving residents with barriers to employment will open next month on the West Side.

The North Lawndale Employment Network is finishing redevelopment of its campus, which will open March 15. The center at 1111 S. Homan Ave. will provide opportunities for residents to get job training and build careers. And it will have banking services and a neighborhood café, CEO Brenda Palms-Barber said.

The workforce development campus will be 20,000 square feet, allowing the North Lawndale Employment Network to double its capacity for job programs and to consolidate its training and work readiness programs under a single roof. Currently, the nonprofit operates between five locations, including the nearby Nichols Tower at 906 S. Homan Ave., several apiaries and a production facility for the social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings.

The campus will have state-of-the-art facilities to accommodate Sweet Beginnings, including a production area for the company’s beeswax and honey products. The company creates job opportunities and offers training for people who are formerly incarcerated to prevent recidivism.

North Lawndale-grantee Sweet Beginnings, LLC. offers full-time transitional jobs to returning in the production and sales of all-natural skin care products, BeeLove. Credit: Sarah Conway/City Bureau

The recidivism rate for program participants is less than 8 percent, the organization’s data shows, compared to the statewide average of more than 50 percent.

“This workforce development campus represents what every person in North Lawndale deserves: a beautiful place to learn, feel included, gain skills and good jobs, launch a new beginning and discover the beauty and importance of honeybees,” Palms-Barber said.

The center will include specialized facilities to house North Lawndale Employment Network’s U-Turn Permitted job readiness program and its Moving Forward diesel mechanic skills program in partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority.

Brenda Palms Barber is CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network. Credit: North Lawndale Employment Network

The organization’s overarching goal is to reduce unemployment in North Lawndale by 10 percent by 2024.

The North Lawndale Employment Network also offers financial literacy programs, credit-building support and coaching through its Financial Opportunity Center. The campus will partner with Wintrust Bank, which will lease space at the center to bring more financial resources and access to banking to North Lawndale. Hundreds of program participants have already opened checking accounts through the partnership with Wintrust, Palms-Barber said.

The site of the workforce development center has a long history as a Black-owned bank, first as the Community Bank of North Lawndale, then as Liberty Bank. When Liberty closed in 2018, it left Lawndale with few remaining banks — and left the West Side with no Black-owned banks at all.

The campus will have offices, a peace garden and an event space to give community members a local place to gather. Wifi towers built at the center in partnership with Chicago Connected will offer free internet service for up to 10,000 families in the area, which Palmer said is essential for students and employees who have had to transition to remote work.

The on-site Worker Bee Café will bring options to an area lacking in cafes and restaurants. Meals at the café will be provided through a partnership with Inspiration Kitchens, which runs a transitional jobs program for restaurant workers.

“We can’t wait to offer our clients expanded programming, the residents of North Lawndale a place to gather and convene for meetings and our community a place to enjoy one of our signature honey lattes at our very own café,” said Jessica Butler, North Lawndale Employment Network’s development director.

The redevelopment, which is a core part of the North Lawndale Quality-of-Life Plan, is funded in part by a $2.5 million Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant from the city.

Sweet Beginnings workers bottle honey and beeswax products. Credit: Photo courtesy of Sweet Beginnings

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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