PULLMAN — For many years, much of the land to the west of the Bishop Ford Freeway in Pullman sat largely undeveloped, with few businesses occupying that part of the neighborhood.
Now, the area is home to large centers operated by Gotham Greens, Amazon, Method Soap Company, Whole Foods and more.
The area is also home to another hulking structure that’s become a neighborhood rock, helping the lives of kids in the neighborhood: the Pullman Community Center at 10355 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Rising from a vacant lot four years ago, the center is now a gathering place for community members, especially kids, who get access to athletic, cultural and academic activities.
With a location for students, athletes, families and other community members to congregate, the Pullman Community Center has become an important neighborhood resource since it opened in 2018.
“I watched the concrete go down,” said Kevin Coe, the assistant general manager of the Pullman Community Center. “I watched them put the turf down on the turf fields, I watched them put the basketball courts down. Been there, pretty much since I started in September 2018. So to watch that build and go up in basically eight weeks was amazing.”
Built by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives on what was once a 12-acre vacant lot at 104th and Woodlawn Avenue, the Center also hosts league play and tournaments for sports programs and Chicago schools.
The facility has courts for basketball and volleyball; turf fields for indoor baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer; batting and pitching cages for baseball and softball training; a concession area as well as an education center.
Some of the sports programs are run by Coe, who helps general manager Kristin Curtis in the day-to-day administration of the center. Coe, after leaving his position at Chicago White Sox as the director of youth baseball, was tapped by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to join the center as the head of youth baseball. He also runs the community center’s website.
The idea for a community center in the 9th ward originally came from Beale nearly 20 years ago. Beale, who has coached little league for over 25 years, noticed local sports leagues lacking a place in the community to practice and always having to travel for games.
The alderman worked to find funders who could help make his dream a reality. He helped raise $20 million in funding from investments and donations from the Chicago Bears; Chicago Cubs Charities; Chicago Community Loan Fund; Chicago’s Environmental Loan Fund; Chicago Housing Authority and a host of others.
The project was also received $5 million in additional funding from New Markets Tax Credits provided by Citibank, U.S. Bank and NCIF.
Beale said it was also important to him to provide somewhere where youth from Pullman, Roseland and other neighborhoods in the 9th ward could go to be involved in positive activities.
“We’re thinking outside the box, and we knew a community center, where thousands of people a week come in and out of the Pullman community center — that’s thousands of people that are involved in something positive, off the street, doing something positive, whether it’s recreation, sports or tutoring or training. I mean, you name it, we’re doing it,” he said.
The community center is also home to several partner organizations and sports teams. Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy’s baseball team, which played Lane Tech in the Chicago Public School’s Baseball Championship game in May, regularly trains at the center.
Like many of the participants in the center’s 5:30 Scholars academic program, several athletes that have trained there have gone on to receive scholarships for college.
Pullman resident Sylus Green is the co-founder of the 5:30 Scholars program, originally based in Evanston as a partnership between Green’s MyT Training program and fellow co-founder Lemi-Ola Erinkitola’s The Critical Thinking Child program. When parents began to find it difficult to make the long journey from Chicago to Evanston, Green began looking for places in the city where the 5:30 Scholars program could more comfortably locate.
“We grew tired of the lack of academic resources needed to get our children ahead,” Green said. “So we became the resource.”
In the 5:30 Scholars program, parents are trained to help students ages 5-17 in intensive math and reading programs. They also provide college readiness opportunities, mentorship, community service initiatives, STEM activities and economic development skills.
Student participants in the program have received over $10 million in scholarships over the last three years. Green attributes that to having in-neighborhood resources for the majority Black youth living in and around Pullman.
To Green, who lives in the neighborhood, the Pullman Community Center has been an “oasis” to families like his, ones who’ve long looked for somewhere their families could go for safe peer-to-peer socialization and academic and athletic opportunities.
“From my personal family experience, I think it’s important that kids can play there and I think a lot of times people take that for granted,” Green said. “It’s the only place,unfortunately, due to the violence that happens in the neighborhood where they can just play without the parents hovering over.
“Because I know it feels different, that they’re free. Like, when they go to the center, they feel free.”
Currently, the center doesn’t receive any ongoing grants from local goverment agencies to operate so donations help offset the costs of running the center’s programs and providing scholarships to athletes.
Coe said his personal goal for the Pullman Community Center is that the participants of the Pullman Ballers baseball program, most of whom are around 15 years old, receive college scholarships.
He also wants to establish a free program where the athletes in the program can play year round.
“It’s important for me, because hopefully, we’re changing lives,” Coe said, “As an educator you’re taught if you change one life, you made a difference. I think we’re changing so many lives, we’re providing an opportunity for so many more organizations, so many more youth in our community, so many more partnerships that allow our community to grow.”
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