BRIGHTON PARK — In 2017, Gina Ramirez set a goal to open the first teen center in the Southwest Side neighborhood where she was raised and still lives. Six years later, her goal is now a reality.
Ramirez, founder of the nonprofit Party Per Purpose, held an open house this month for the teen center at 3932 S. California Ave. in Brighton Park.
The Party Per Purpose Teen Center is designed to be a “safe space” for 13- to 19-year-olds in the neighborhood, with programs and weekday workshops ranging from peace circles and break dancing to mosaic making and creative writing, Ramirez said. The workshops began June 5.
The center will offer services for families as well, she said.
“I also want services for gang-affiliated youth, teen pregnancy. There’s definitely going to be all types of resources for everyone,” Ramirez said. “But the main focus is the teenagers.”
Ramirez started her nonprofit in 2017 to provide mentorship to teens in the neighborhood while she applied for grants, invested her own money and raised funds to open a dedicated teen center for the neighborhood.
She said she noticed the empty storefront with the “For Rent” sign on the corner of California Avenue and West 39th Place while taking her daughter on walks in her stroller. The building is a block away from Ramirez’s childhood home and Thomas Kelly College Preparatory School. Three elementary schools are also close by: Brighton Park Elementary School, Acero-Sandra Cisneros Elementary School and Nathan S. Davis Elementary School.
“I don’t even know how to explain it … but it felt safe to me right there,” said Ramirez, who signed the lease in late May.
Myriam Yvette Perez, a Party Per Purpose board member, attended one of Ramirez’s fundraising parties in 2017. Perez said when she found out she and Ramirez live a block apart, she became involved with outreach and organizing for Party Per Purpose.
Perez is helping Ramirez with the workshops and programs for the teen center.
“I was really inspired by her power and her movement, and I felt really grateful to know her and walk by her,” Perez said.
An active Local School Council member, Perez said she hopes the teen center will help alleviate the trauma experienced by many young people in Brighton Park.
“It has been passed down to generations and there’s never been a space to not only claim and talk about the trauma but also heal from that trauma,” Perez said. “In our society, it’s like we’re kind of just supposed to keep working, keep moving. … We don’t talk about everything that we’ve been through, like sexual abuse, like domestic abuse, like gang violence.
“And I feel like this space is gonna be … the pillar of Brighton Park.”
For the open house June 1, Ramirez held a community roundtable to get teens’ input and let them know about the free programs and resources available to them, including internships at the center and a Downtown trip scheduled for July 8.
Matthew Sebastian, 16, lives in Brighton Park and got involved with Party Per Purpose after the open house, distributing fliers with two other friends about the teen center. He said he is a member of another youth organization, Increase the Peace, which has co-hosted events with Party Per Purpose.
“I feel like it’s really important to interact with the people in our community, and if you want to see growth, we need to ask the people who actually live in the community to make decisions that would benefit the people,” Sebastian said.
Sebastian said he is most interested in the workshops at the center including the peace circles and creative writing workshops.
“I like to express myself with writing as well, and I feel like giving other people that tool is also cool and could even inspire others to get into that,” he said.
“We have been oppressed of a space to heal and feel safe and this is what that is,” Perez said of the teen center.
Ramirez has been applying for various grants to sustain the teen center and programs. She continues to invest her own money while fundraising and soliciting donations from the public. Her goal is to raise $100,000, she said.
“They can donate hygiene products, art supplies, furniture,” Ramirez said. “Volunteering is also very, very helpful considering just where we’re at right now, especially in the summertime when events are coming up.”
Ramirez said she plans to have a grand opening of the teen center, but a date has not yet been set.
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