Old Firehouse Seeks to ‘Spark’ Change in Outlook for Youth

Post a Comment » Written on August 5th, 2009     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (August 5, 2009) – A Herculean effort will be needed to transform the Chicago Fire Department’s Engine 38 fire station into the Firehouse Community Arts Center (FCAC) for youth in the crime-ridden neighborhood of North Lawndale, but organizers say the need for the center is even greater.

Members of The House Covenant Church and The House Development Corporation (HDC) believe it can be done. And so do many of the North Lawndale youth, who already have begun the physical labor to transform the structure. They, more than anyone, understand the importance of this work.

OneLike jobs and opportunities for advancement, a critical shortage of hope exists among many neighborhood residents. Young people here are no longer surprised to hear gunshots or stabbings in this neighborhood, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

HDC Board Chair Khaldun Everage, who also is manager of student engagement and community outreach for the Chicago Public Schools system, noted that 42 public school students were shot and killed during a 40-week period. That is just a fraction of the students who were actually shot, Everage added, saying, “The only difference between a shooting and a homicide is where the bullet hit.”

Most shootings occur between 5 and 8 p.m., so having a place where students can go to feel safe during those hours is extremely important Everage says, adding that principals at the four area high schools have given their support to the project.

One of the people committed to seeing FCAC become a reality is Jason, a former gangbanger. “In this eight-block radius, there ain’t nothing but trouble,” he told attendees at a fundraiser and open house for the center last week. He walked with a pronounced limp to the microphone where he shared his story.

Two“The streets got me shot seven times,” he said. The shooting left him paralyzed from the neck down, but “by the grace of God” he has improved and has committed himself to helping The Firehouse become a reality.

When Phil Jackson, pastor of The House Covenant Church, visited Jason in the hospital, the wounded young man declared, “Whether I’m in a wheelchair, using a walker, or a cane, I’m going to make a difference for the youth in this community.”

He is one of the hundreds of mostly young people who each week attend The House’s hip hop services – students who are catching a new kind of vision for the community and their own futures.

“The hood will tell you that this eight blocks is all you got,” said Jackson. People too easily and too often stay trapped by that message, he added.

God, Jackson says, can change their lives, but that also will require the courage of people who are willing to help. “Just as firemen and firewomen are trained to save lives by running into the fire, we are going to run into the fire. We are going to run into the flames of poverty, hopelessness and despair.”

ThreeThey won’t be just looking to put out the flames, however. “We’re running in to spark new flames, one kid at a time.” Those flames, he explained, are new hope, vision, and opportunity.

More than 200 students a day will have the opportunity to take part in weekly programming that will include classes in dance, art, photography, computer skills, culinary arts, and sound and video recording. Two chefs are scheduled to start teaching culinary arts to students at a temporary site in the church.

Ultimately, Jackson said, The House Development Corporation will manage the students in vocational enterprises, such as the culinary kitchen, that will serve the community and help raise operating costs for the center.

Organizers are speaking with possible corporate donors and estimate the cost for construction and supplies to be $500,000, although it could be less depending on the amount of volunteer labor. Jackson estimates operating costs to be another $250,000 a year, if they have to pay for all the staff.

The building’s roof already has been replaced and a lot of the rehabilitation work has begun. A large, bright mural has been painted on the front, and several paintings by students hang throughout the building.

It’s a spark.

Editor’s note: The accompanying photos were supplied by The House Covenant Church – identifications were not available.

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