AUBURN GRESHAM — A gala next month will commemorate the 20th anniversary of The ARK of St. Sabina, a youth center that provides free programs such as athletics, arts and crafts.
The Sept. 19 event will begin at 6 p.m. with a VIP reception followed by the gala at Salvage One, 1840 W. Hubbard St. The gala also will be a fundraiser for the ARK, with a goal of raising $50,000, said Jocelyn Jones, executive director of the Ark of St. Sabina.
"This is our first gala, and all monies raised would go to support the work we do at the ARK," Jones said. "Every year, 500 youth visit the ARK, so the total number of kids we have serviced during our existence is countless."
Tickets for the gala are $125 and can be bought online or by calling (773) 483-4333.
The ARK, which is open from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, serves kids and young adults from 6-24. Other programs available at the ARK, 7800 S. Racine Ave., include summer day camp, mentoring, tutoring and dance. Free snacks are provided.
Youths said they like going to the ARK because it's a place in the neighborhood that is well respected by gangs as a safe haven.
"I have been coming to the ARK for about two years and have never had any problems with anyone or seen any problems occur," said 15-year-old Keandre Hollis, who lives in Auburn Gresham and is a sophomore at Simeon Career Academy High School. "The environment at the ARK is a good one. Good, clean fun without all the drama."
Sierra James, 12, said she has also been going to the ARK for two years.
"There's a lot of activities at the ARK. I like the dance classes," said the seventh-grader at St. Sabina Academy, who also lives in Auburn Gresham. "And I feel safe when I am here."
But not all the kids the ARK serves live nearby.
Lonnie Harris said he moved with his family from Auburn Gresham five weeks ago to suburban Northbrook, but still goes to the ARK at 7800 S. Racine Ave.
"I don't have a problem with getting on the train and coming here. A lot of my friends go to the ARK to play basketball, and I like to play ball," said Harris, a 16-year-old sophomore at Glenbrook North High School. "They [ARK staff] let you do pretty much whatever you want to do as long as you don't cause any problems. So if I want to do homework, I can do that. If I want to play [board] games I can do that, too. One thing I can't do at the ARK is swim. I wish there was a swimming pool."
Jones said she too would like to see the ARK get a swimming pool and also provide other programs.
But "those things take money," she added.
Community stakeholders praised the ARK, a brainchild of the Rev. Michel Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church.
"Obviously, by the ARK being down the street from us we interact with them and the youths they serve a lot," said Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., a nonprofit organization. "The ARK is a wonderful asset for the Auburn Gresham community and the entire youth population."
Across the street from the ARK at 7811 S. Racine Ave. is the office of Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), whose ward includes Auburn Gresham.
"The ARK has been very beneficial to the Auburn Gresham community. It gives youths and young adults something to do," Thomas said. "One philosophy I have is that if you want youth to stay productive then you have to have a productive place for them to go. And around here it's the ARK."
Pfleger summed up the purpose of the ARK, whose slogan is "A Shelter from the Urban Storm" by saying, "Brush the dust off of our children's dreams and (let's) reawaken them."