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Volunteers to Spruce up Chicago Youth Center Bridgeport Fellowship House

By Casey Cora | August 1, 2013 6:32am
 Tina Ayala (c.) surrounded by particpants in the Chicago Youth Centers Bridgeport Fellowship House summer programs.
Tina Ayala (c.) surrounded by particpants in the Chicago Youth Centers Bridgeport Fellowship House summer programs.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — The Chicago Youth Center Bridgeport Fellowship House is about to get a fresh coat of paint on the inside, courtesy of a paint industry trade group.

“We're going to take the place by storm,” said Ben McIntyre, a community relations liaison for the Chicago Paint and Coatings Association, a group representing dozens of local paint and chemical companies that will send about 50 volunteer painters to the building at 844 W. 32nd St., behind the Bridgeport Homes complex.

Gone will be the drab grays and muted pastels inside the center's hallways and classrooms, which take in about 100 kids for after-school and summer programs each year, a mix of Head Start students, grade school students and teenagers.

“The staff and families at Fellowship House are excited that we have been chosen for this project. We will have a new fresh look to start off the school year. We are truly grateful,” said Chicago Youth Center director Tina Ayala.

Founded in 1895 by the All Souls Unitarian Church, Fellowship House is considered among the oldest of the city's settlement houses, which offered classes, social and recreational programs for working class and poor immigrants.

The group later linked up with Chicago Youth Centers, an amalgamation of boys and girls clubs founded by a pair of city businessmen in the 1950s.

Fellowship House became part of Chicago Youth Centers sometime around 1960, and today it continues offering a range of kid-focused programming and activities at its locations in Bridgeport, Grand Boulevard, Bronzeville, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, South Shore, Riverdale, Altgeld Gardens and Roseland.

Ayala, of Elk Grove Village, said the organization survived with state Head Start funding and a mix of private donations and grants from Illinois Action for Children and the Chicago Housing Authority.

Like its counterparts across the city, the Bridgeport location takes in a mix of neighborhood kids  from all ethnic backgrounds.

“People think that it's all African-American. But it's not. There are Lithuanian, Chinese, African-American, Caucasian. That shocks people that it's really diverse,” Ayala said.

Enrollment is closed for the upcoming year.

“That’s the good thing and the bad thing. There’s no openings. People who come through the program, you see generation after generation and generation coming here.”

It's the 17th year the trade group has taken on a paint project, called "Paint a Brighter Chicago." They've done schools and community centers throughout the Chicago area.

“Our purpose is that a lot of organizations, community centers and even schools don't have funding for beautification projects. It's last on the list. But it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do,” McIntyre said.