Seth Green, the executive director of Youth Organizations Umbrella, described the group’s plans for a new headquarters at 1911 Church St. Thursday evening to a sometimes skeptical group of 5th Ward residents.
The discussion drew about two dozen residents to a monthly ward meeting at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.
Green said Y.O.U. plans a two-story, 12,000 square foot building on the site. That’s slightly more square footage than the total of the three old buildings on the property that were demolished earlier this year.
Resident Madelyn Ducre complained, “You were supposed to come back to the community and get input and that did not happen. That was very disrespectful to our community.”
Green said he appreciated the concerns. “We want to be great neighbors, and that’s what this is all about — getting your input.”
The project has already had a complicated history.
Col. Jennifer Pritzker acquired the property last fall from developer Daniel Cheifetz.with plans to construct a learning center for youth, initially dubbed Project Beacon, at the site across from Evanston Township High School and demolished the old buildings last April.
Green said Y.O.U., which was founded in 1971, has been looking to replace its existing headquarters at 1027 Sherman Ave. at least since 2009, but wasn’t able to raise sufficient funds at that time to move forward with the plans.
In 2012, he says they shifted gears and considered renovating the 1027 Sherman building, but by the next year early success with fundraising led the group to consider buying and renovating a larger building at 1101 Dodge Ave.
Then, early this year, Green said, Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises invited Y.O.U. to consider becoming the lead tenant in the planned building at 1911 Church, but Y.O.U. leaders were concerned they wouldn’t be able to afford the rent.
After further discussions, Pritzker decided to make a gift of the propertly and cash with a combined value of $1.5 million to Y.O.U. to let it build its own new headquarters on the site. With an additional gift of $1 million from the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation, Green says Y.O.U. is more than half way to its fundraising goal for the project.
Residents listening to the Y.O.U. presentation.
Y.O.U. now serves a total of nearly 1,200 young people, Green said, with after school programs at 10 sites across the community.
In addition to office space for its growing staff that now numbers 55 people, Green said the new headquarters would provide facilities that aren’t available at its current program sites, mostly in local schools.
Those include a demonstration kitchen for a culinary therapy program and a “maker lab” space that would provide hands-on learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathmatics.
The building, he said, would also hold a large multi-purpose meeting room for community collaboration, family gatherings staff training sessions.
Green said that with Y.O.U. programs focused on the late afternoon to early-evening after-school hours, he’s actively looking for other organizations that can share the space during other parts of the day.
In response to questions, Green said that Y.O.U. programs are now at capacity. They serve youths from 8 to 18 in the afterschool program, with an emphasis on students in the middle-school years.
Y.O.U. also provides a street outreach program for young adults.
He said about 60 percent of the students in the program now are black and 25 to 30 percent are Latino. Over 85 percent are on free or reduced lunch programs at their schools.
“Our niche is providing clinically-informed out-of-school opportunities,” Green said.
“We have a lot of social workers on our team. We encourage social and emotional learning for youngsters who may be dealing with some trauma in their lives or may be dealing with anger-management issues.
Green said Y.O.U. plans to work on design and construction plans for the new building through next summer, and return to another ward meeting to show drawings for the project in a few months.
Construction is scheduled to start next September with the organization scheduled to move into the new building by August 2016.