CHICAGO — Weeds and tall grass currently run wild in a vacant lot at the corner of Independence Boulevard and Fillmore Street in North Lawndale.
Starting this spring, the land will be put to use for Chicago's children facing trauma.
As early as May, UCAN, a Chicago-based organization aimed at creating opportunities for the city's at-risk population, will begin construction on a 70-acre campus that will include a football field-sized "therapeutic youth home" as well as a two-story structure that will serve as the group's headquarters.
Along with creating a space for violence prevention and rehabilitation, the largest undertaking in its 143-year history, UCAN has chosen a team of minority- and women-owned firms to design and build the 54,500-square-foot "safe house."
"We believe you can't ask people to invest in something if you're not invested in the community," said Claude Robinson Jr., UCAN's executive vice president. "One of the ways you impact young people of color is not only what you do with them programmatically but what you do in the communities they live in."
Females make up 70 percent of UCAN's workforce and 60 percent of its service base, Robinson said. Likewise, about 86 percent of that service base is comprised of minority youth.
The numbers are clear, so UCAN is practicing what it preaches.
Johnson & Lee Ltd., a nationally renowned black-owned architectural firm, and Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest black-owned architecture firm, will design the campus and Searl Lamaster Howe Architects, a woman-owned business enterprise will provide the interior design.
The $32.9 million project will provide more than a safe haven for community groups and at-risk youth. The Therapeutic Youth Home, part of UCAN's CITY initiative, will include 70 bedrooms for residents ages 6-18, and will also include a gym, playing fields, a community kitchen, and administrative and support spaces.
The group hopes to partner with local organizations to impact more than 100,000 children over a five-year period, Robinson said.
"What the CITY approach does is not just at the individual and family level but also at the community level," said Norman Kerr, UCAN's vice president for violence prevention services. "We want to see reductions in violence community-wide by building collaborative relationships with other organizations."
While the CITY campus will be the hub of UCAN's initiative, the "CITY approach" aims to create a model for violence prevention beyond the campus walls.
"This is something kids always need," Kerr said. "A lot of the [media] attention that's been happening makes it seem more of a prevalent need, but if you talk to people in the community, they've been facing this for years.
"We want our kids to be safe — so they can go to school without being shot at or assaulted. This is something that's a constant. People in the community don't feel safe and that's a feeling we want to change."