WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — The founder of The Bloc is asking for the public’s help after a group of people broke into the nonprofit’s West Humboldt Park headquarters this week and stole supplies meant for West Side kids.
The robbery happened about 4:45 a.m. Monday, police said. A group of people forced their way into a side window and back door of The Bloc’s headquarters at 1345 N. Karlov Ave., the former home of Mission of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. The group stole at least six laptops, tablets, an internet router and one of the nonprofit’s large vans, founder Jamyle Cannon said. The robbery was captured on the building’s surveillance camera.
The Bloc is a nonprofit dedicated to uplifting West Side kids through boxing and academic programs. After a few years of functioning as an after-school program, the organization took over the West Humboldt Park church last year.
“We view this as a sanctuary. What took place was such a violation of that,” Cannon said. “To see people on video strolling through the space, destroying property, taking things that belong to our kids and our community, is one of the most infuriating things I’ve had to deal with as a nonprofit leader.”
Cannon and his team are raising money to buy a security system and replace the stolen items. They’re also seeking donations to bolster their work. Donations can be made online on The Bloc’s website.
For The Bloc, losing one of the group’s vans stings.
Both vans were used to shuttle kids to and from boxing lessons and tutoring sessions. They have become a “centerpiece” of the nonprofit because they make it so any kid, even those whose parents don’t have a car or don’t have enough money for bus fare, can participate and benefit from The Bloc’s programs, Cannon said.
Cannon has enlisted a group of volunteers to help with pickups and dropoffs until the organization is able to replace the second van.
“The hardest part is getting kids to The Bloc so they don’t have to miss out because this happened. I’m determined to make sure they don’t miss out,” he said.
Cannon launched The Bloc in 2016 to help West Side kids get off the street and into the boxing ring. On top of boxing training, The Bloc offers academic tutoring and enrichment programs at its headquarters and at local schools. The organization typically serves about 120 kids; last year, enrollment was limited to 50 kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The robbery hit The Bloc kids hard, with some of them “palpably angry,” Cannon said.
“We promise safety and security to the kids who come to us. We promise that this is going to be a space that, no matter what’s happening, that you can breathe a sense of relief here. To have that violated on such a foundational level — it’s difficult to cope with,” he said.
Even though the robbery is a setback, it won’t stop Cannon from growing the nonprofit. Next school year, Cannon aims to ramp up enrollment to 300 kids. He said The Bloc has established roots in the neighborhood, and the robbery won’t detract from their mission.
West Humboldt Park neighbors have been extremely supportive of The Bloc since the nonprofit moved into the church last year, Cannon said. The man who alerted Cannon of the robbery is a neighbor who has been keeping watch for months, he said. For a while, another neighbor was cutting the nonprofit’s grass “because they loved and supported” the organization. And neighbors routinely donate to the organization to keep its programs strong.
“We know that what took place is not a reflection of how the community views us,” Cannon said.
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