AUSTIN — West Side leaders broke ground Thursday on a youth and community center being developed in South Austin.
The facility will be a new headquarters for BUILD Chicago and allow the youth development organization to vastly expand the number of children it serves in the neighborhood.
The new “youth and community hub” will allow BUILD to grow its programs for kids and teens that are “engaging them in community, bringing them in the sports and arts and music and food, providing mentors and safe spaces,” said Adam Alonso, the CEO of BUILD.
The 51,000-square-foot campus will include art and music studios, performance spaces, a youth lounge, game room, woods shop and technology center with a maker lab.
The development will have facilities dedicated to the Peace and Justice Center, a restorative justice collaborative BUILD participates in.
A focus is also community health, so the facility will have an integrated mental health center, a commercial kitchen and café, an athletic facility with a basketball gym and a walking track accessible to neighborhood seniors. BUILD’s urban agriculture program, the Iris, also will expand along with the organization’s community garden and chicken coop.
“That farm’s coming back bigger and better than before. I’ve been asked by the team to include baby goats,” Alonso said.
The expanded health resources will benefit not only neighborhood youth, but also their families, said Charles Anderson, principal of Michele Clark Magnet High School, located across the street from the new campus site at 5100 W. Harrison St.
“Many of our adults have had health issues,” Anderson said. “The life expectancy goes down the further west you get. This will be a great opportunity for our adults to get some exercise in and feel safe … to get some mind-relieving meditation pieces and yoga and all those things to help them be successful.”
BUILD launched a capital campaign for the new campus in 2018. Some of the organization’s key donors include BMO Harris Bank and United Way of Metro Chicago, which each offered $1 million to the project. A total of $6 million in state capital funds have also been committed to the project.
The West Side needs continued investment from the city, the state, nonprofits and the private sector to give young people the opportunity to thrive, said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).
“We have to continue to provide opportunities,” he said. “Opportunities for the young rapper that stands on a corner over here. Opportunities for the aspiring NFL player or the NBA player. Opportunities for the aspiring doctors and nurses. Without opportunity, a community can lose hope.”
BUILD’s programs engage youth to help them understand the power they have to make a positive impact on their neighborhoods, said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Those opportunities are essential for ensuring young people do not succumb to the despair and hopelessness that traps many in a cycle of poverty and violence, Lightfoot said.
“When our young people face barriers and systemic obstacles to positive futures, they are more likely to find themselves in situations that compromise them, that may bring harm to them, or worse, bring harm to someone else,” Lightfoot said.
These community supports and investments into the next generation are especially important due to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, Lightfoot said.
“In order to ensure that our young people can be fully recovered from the social and emotional stressors, the dual challenges of COVID-19 and gun violence, the other pandemic we are fighting simultaneously, we have to work that much harder to bring resources to bear,” Lightfoot said.
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