WEST TOWN — After more than a century serving the West Town neighborhood, Onward Neighborhood House has moved on.
On Monday, the non-profit completed itsmove to Belmont Cragin, where it will now serve the neighborhood full-time, said Laura Bollin, Onward House development coordinator. The new offices at 5411 and 5423 W. Diversey Avenue are nearly six miles northwest of the West Town neighborhood it previously served.
The non-profit's West Town building at 600 N. Leavitt St. has sold, Bollin said. Before long, the 75-foot-by-125-foot corner lot, listed for just under $1.2 million and described as "a prime opportunity to build," by Realtor Megan Tirpak, will likely be rebuilt. Online, the property is currently listed as under contract and Tirpak did not return calls Tuesday.
The non-profit's move was prompted by a needy population moving west.
For most of the last century, West Town was "emblematic of many of Chicago's neighborhoods," Onward Executive Director Mario Garcia said in a statement. It was "a community of working immigrants in the process of integrating into all facets of our beloved city," he said.
But in the past decade, Onward Neighborhood House staff witnessed many of the families they serve leaving the area.
"The West Town community now features many new single-family and townhomes," Garcia said. "As our families have migrated, so also has the need for the services we provide."
According to U.S. Census data, West Town had 18 percent fewer residents in poverty in 2011 compared to 2000. Belmont Cragin experienced an 86 percent increase in poverty during this same time frame.
In 2011, 17 percent of West Town's population was in poverty. About 21 percent of Belmont Cragin's population met poverty levels in 2011. Anecdotally, the number of Belmont Cragin residents living in poverty continues to increase, Onward officials report.
Recognizing the growing need in Belmont Cragin, Onward Neighborhood House's board voted to open a second facility in the neighborhood six years ago. Today, Belmont Cragin resembles the West Town "of decades past," Garcia wrote.
"It is a vibrant, overcrowded neighborhood of first and second-generation immigrants," Garcia wrote.
In August, Onward Neighborhood House opened a food pantry at St. Peter's United Church in Belmont Cragin. More than 20 percent of the neighborhood's residents are "food insecure," Bollin said, meaning that they lack regular access to the food they need.
The food pantry, in the basement at St. Peter's at 2805 N. Linder Ave., is open from 4-6 p.m. Thursdays, and as demand increases, the non-profit plans to make the pantry available twice a week.
Proceeds from the sale of the Onward Neighborhood House's Leavitt building will be re-invested in the organization. The new Belmont Cragin building adds more than 9,000 square feet of administrative and programming space, Bollin said.
Before the move, families served by Onward were transitioned to other programs in West Town, including programs at Erie Neighborhood House, 1701 W. Superior St., and Northwestern Settlement, 1400 W. Augusta Blvd.
Onward Neighborhood House's move follows a number of organizations that have also opted to leave West Town or branch out to West and South Side neighborhoods. East Village Youth Program, which started in 1989 to serve students at the now-shuttered Hans Christian Anderson Elementary, moved to Avondale in 2007.
Onward Neighborhood House aims to empower families and individuals in need through educational, recreational and social service programs. Its services include a food pantry, early childhood education, a a community computer resource center and ESL and GED classes.
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