NORTH LAWNDALE — A workforce training campus on the West Side has opened its doors to job seekers, entrepreneurs and workers who face barriers to getting employed.
The new headquarters for the North Lawndale Employment Network, 1111 S. Homan Ave., brings all the organization’s workforce development programs together under one roof, which will double its capacity. The organization’s job skills training programs, financial education center and social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings, were previously scattered at locations around the West Side.
The campus includes a rooftop apiary and production space for the Sweet Beginnings beekeeping and entrepreneurship program, a Wintrust Bank branch, an events space, a peace garden, a café and facilities that will house job training programs.
The expanded programs will help the North Lawndale Employment Network achieve its goal of reducing unemployment in the neighborhood by 10 percent by 2030, said President and CEO Brenda Palms Barber.
“It’s about the jobs. It’s about economic advancement,” Barber said. “Everybody deserves the chance to fly. Everybody deserves the chance to do more, to be more, to soar.”
The North Lawndale Employment Network’s programs are geared toward people who face barriers to getting a job, especially those who are formerly incarcerated.
The organization’s services include the U-Turn Permitted job readiness program, the Moving Forward diesel mechanic skills training partnership with the CTA and the Sweet Beginnings beekeeping and honey product social enterprise. The programs assist participants in building their resumes and developing work and entrepreneurship skills.
Participants are place into middle-income jobs where they have benefits and opportunities for growth and are treated with respect, Barber said.
“We seek to address the systemic barriers to unemployment that are based on race, class and criminal records by providing client-centered job readiness training and placement into good jobs,” Barber said.
The workforce campus is a victory for the West Side and for all Chicagoans because “millions of residents in our country need a second chance,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, who represents the area.
North Lawndale Employment Network is leasing part of the campus to Wintrust Bank, which will make financial services more accessible to Lawndale residents. Prior to Wintrust opening, there was only one other bank in Lawndale.
The bank will make it easier for residents to access financial services like mortgages, credit cards and business loans, Barber said.
The Wintrust Bank branch grew from conversations about having an ATM at the campus, said Wintrust CEO Doug Boersma.
“It didn’t take long for us to recognize those plans were way too small and pivot to put in this banking facility,” he said.
The headquarters is also the home of the beelove Café, which serves coffee and drinks infused with Sweet Beginnings honey. The café is staffed by employment program participants and offers treats and retail products made by local entrepreneurs, including Trini’s Tasty Pastries.
The café is “a gathering place where people can come, read the paper, plug into a laptop and enjoy a good cup of coffee and and be accepted,” Barber said.
An events space at the headquarters was dedicated to Michael Scott Sr., father of Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).
North Lawndale Employment Network raised more than $11 million for the headquarters. The city supported the project with a $2.5 million Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant. The city also offered $1.1 million in New Markets Tax Credits for the project.
The city’s support of the workforce campus is part of the Invest South/West initiative to back catalytic projects in historically disinvested neighborhoods, said Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar.
“What this center represents is the future of investment in Chicago. … We’re just getting started out here on the West Side,” Mayekar said.
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