CHICAGO - With a larger space and a focus on healing emotional wounds, youth development group UCAN is hoping its brand-new facility can not only transform its standard of care, but also make a lasting impact on its new neighborhood.
UCAN unveiled its $26 million "therapeutic youth home" with a ribbon cutting in North Lawndale Thursday to about 175 attendees. Officials said the new home will take a more holistic approach and hopes it will become a community center and resource for the area.
About 65 foster kids will move into the new facility in a few weeks, UCAN CEO Tom VandenBerk said. They will likely find a living situation unlike one they have seen before.
That's because UCAN's new home has a therapy focus that will attempt to remedy the trauma foster kids experience after leaving their families. The idea was to move away from the more institutional-looking foster homes of years past and transition to a more open, inviting setting.
That includes more communal spaces, a new gym, cooking spaces in individual rooms and washing machines so kids can learn to take care of themselves.
"It's a healing place for these kids," VandenBerk said. "We want to focus on health and development."
Whereas the facility UCAN is leaving on the Northwest Side had dorm-style living quarters, VandenBerk said kids will have their own space at the new facility.
"It's not only there to house the kids," VandenBerk said. "It's a learning environment for kids, particularly older kids who might be getting ready to live independently."
The youth home is only phase one of the group's ambitious building project. UCAN has also broken ground on an administration building at the same North Lawndale site that currently houses the youth home. It will be completed in 2016, VandenBerk said.
Once the administration building is completed, UCAN's new headquarters will have transformed the former Sears catalogue warehouse site that has been an eyesore for generations. (The group received $2.5 million in tax incremental financing funds for the project, among other public funding, VandenBerk said.)
Beyond transforming the physical site, VandenBerk said he hopes the group's new headquarters will have a positive impact on the North Lawndale community. UCAN will open a mentoring program at the site as well as roll out a $7 million anti-violence campaign. In other words, VandenBerk said he wants UCAN's services to reach beyond the kids housed inside.
"It's not only there to house the kids," he said of the facility. "We want to impact the overall North Lawndale community."
The group has already hired nearly 60 employees that come from the two areas codes surrounding its new location, VandenBerk said.
The total project will cost UCAN $48 million, of which about $15 million has been raised by private donations, he said.
Still, the group is $6 million shy of its fundraising goal, but VandenBerk said money will not impede the group's new mission. "We're well on our way," he said.
UCAN, which has roots going back to the 1860s (and uses a name from a now-defunct acronym), has focused on helping children in vulnerable situations like foster homes and children in the welfare system. It now provides youth development services and advocates for youth-centric issues.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: