JEFFERSON PARK — A community space and church in Jefferson Park is ready to reopen to the public after five years of planning.
Friendship Presbyterian Church, which moved out of its Norwood Park location in 2018 and rebranded in 2020 as the nonprofit Friendship Community Place, held its first in-person service Sunday at its new home, 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
The nonprofit takes over the ground floor of the affordable housing complex that opened two months ago after taking nearly five years to get off the ground. During its transition, Sunday worship was held in various churches and Far Northwest Side buildings until service went virtual because of the pandemic. The 10 a.m. service is now both virtual and in person, with a Zoom option that attendees can tune into weekly.
Pastor Shawna Bowman remembers the preliminary zoning meetings about the project five years ago and said the space’s opening is hard to believe.
“It’s really real — it’s a real building with real people,” Bowman said. “It’s really exciting just to have waited so long to see it come to fruition and now it is, but it’s been so gradual too, which has been good … have been able to meet neighbors as they move in.”
Friendship’s nonprofit umbrella wants to be a community space with shared resources that can assist the congregation and the neighborhood at large. In addition to Sunday worship, the group plans to host art classes, community meetings and cooking workshops in its full-service community kitchen, which will be used by the building’s residents and people from the neighborhood.
The event space is fully accessible with ADA restrooms, automatic doors and hybrid capabilities, which Bowman said is a bonus that can help serve more neighbors with varying abilities.
“When we were looking for a space, we could not find any accessible space, even other churches,” they said. “Particularly on the Far Northwest Side, accessibility is a real issue so I feel like that’s a huge plus here.”
The space also has a kid-friendly room where members can get free childcare while attending Sunday worship or host small, private meetings. The large gathering room will also operate as a co-working space later this month. Programs and partnerships are lined up to get more folks into the building.
“We are just excited to get people in here … and to generate interest in a partnership,” Bowman said.
Friendship wants to partner with other nonprofits, service providers and local entrepreneurs that want to offer their resources and talents to the community. Those interested in collaborating can email Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Meier, community outreach and projects coordinator with Friendship Community Place, will be in charge of implementing these partnerships and working with Far Northwest Side entrepreneurs.
Meier, a former Presbyterian minister for 40 years, is gathering ideas from neighbors and wants to help create a more engaged community and tap into local talent.
Some ideas include six-week workshops that showcase the ins and outs of different industries, like an indoor food truck training session that uses the commercial kitchen; hospitality training; or learning how to start your own business. Another big idea: opening a free community cafe that relies on “paying it forward,” meaning those who are able can pay it forward do so that free meals can be provided to others.
Meier helped launch the Pay It Forward Cafe in Northwest Indiana and said she would love to see that model implemented in Jefferson Park.
“I don’t know which of these are realistic and which are crazy, but what I know is if we dream in crazy we will be able to make things happen,” Meier said. “We have met already so many talented incredible people, both residents and volunteers, that it’s very exciting to see what could be possible here.”
Friendship launched a pop-up pantry at the beginning of the year as a sort of housewarming for the new residents. As more neighbors move in — the building’s 73 of its 75 units are full — the organization is seeking more donations. If people have houseware items like kitchenware, cleaning supplies and hangers, they can be dropped off this week through Saturday during its open hours. The last day of the pantry is June 18.
Friendship Community Place and the pantry is open 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.
Starting June 21, the space will be open to the community from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hours will expand as more programming and foot traffic comes to the space.
Friendship plans to host a kitchen warming 6 p.m. July 7 for the neighborhood that will hopefully include a meal and to “warm our own kitchen,” Bowman said.
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