WOODLAWN — When Debbie Frisch's dad died and left her an inheritance two years ago, she decided she wanted to do something to help the city.
So the Wrigleyville mom who has been a foster parent to dozens of kids decided to open a play center for parents and their kids on the South Side similar to ones in her neighborhood and other more affluent areas.
Hello Baby is under construction in a former day care center at 600 E. 61st St. in Woodlawn and is expected to open in June.
The best part? The center, which is for kids 3 years old and younger and their parents, is free to use. Similar centers typically charge $12 to $14 or more per day to use.
“Kids can come and burn off some steam and lose themselves in play,” Frisch said earlier this week.
Frisch said she wants the play center to be a place for parents and caregivers to come together — adults are required to stay with the kids — and socialize as well as provide a safe space to play year-round.
Once open, Hello Baby will have activity tables, a climbing structure and areas for infants that are all easily accessible to parents regardless of how unpredictable Chicago’s weather is.
She said Literature For All of Us from Evanston is planning to do readings and she wants to offer music, art, yoga and other programs parents request.
“Being a mother is the hardest job around, it’s very isolating,” Frisch said.
She said she’s found it to be even more isolating for mothers on the South Side who don’t have the same resources as North Siders.
“Kids can come and burn off some steam and lose themselves in play,” founder Debbie Frisch said. [Courtesy of Perkins and Will]
For nearly 20 years, Frisch has been helping kids on the South Side and elsewhere in the city. As a temporary foster parent, she fostered 56 kids age 5 and younger until they could find a new home or were reunited with family members.
“Whoosh, it just completely changed my life,” Frisch said. “I would get these anxious, hungry, scared children and I would just say ‘You’re safe.’”
So when Frisch found herself in a position to help more kids on the South Side, she started looking for a place to create Hello Baby.
Frisch said Joel Hamernick, executive director of the business and nonprofit incubator Sunshine Enterprises, persuaded her to look at a section of 61st Street that was coming out of a long dormancy.
Hello Baby will be a new midway point between Greenline Coffee, which Sunshine Enterprises runs at 501 E. 61st St., and Metrosquash, which teaches neighborhood kids squash at 6100 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.
Frisch said she wants to expand beyond Woodlawn eventually, but right now is focused on finding what works for parents in Woodlawn and finding donors who can help guarantee Hello Baby is free for the long term.
“However it evolves is good with us,” Frisch said.
Local architecture firm Perkins and Will is doing all the design work pro bono, Frisch said.
Debbie Frisch said she wanted to do something to help kids on the South Side after her father died two years ago. [Courtesy of Debbie Frisch]
Hello Baby will provide a place parents can bring their kids even when the weather is bad. [Courtesy of Perkins and Will]