BUILD Chicago opens home-away-from-home for West Side youth

BUILD Chicago’s new youth and family center in Austin is free and open to the public. There’s a laundry room, a restorative justice program and a farm, among other things.

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Azaria Eggleston, a creative arts specialist at BUILD Chicago, works in BUILD Chicago’s art studio in the Austin neighborhood on Thursday.

Azaria Eggleston, a creative arts specialist at BUILD Chicago, works in BUILD Chicago’s art studio in the Austin neighborhood on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The youth on Chicago’s West Side just got a new home away from home — at 57,000 square feet, it spans a city block and offers just about everything but a pool.

There’s a gym, music studio, computer lab and a garden and greenhouses. It has washers, dryers and private showers — services requested by the young people served by BUILD Chicago, the group behind the project.

“It really is all about providing a space for families to feel welcome, safe and supported,” said Adam Alonso, BUILD Chicago’s CEO. It’s important, Alonso said, “that they want to be here and see it as an extension of their neighborhood.”

The youth and family center, at Harrison Street and Laramie Avenue, will serve as the new headquarters of BUILD Chicago, which focuses on youth development.

BUILD (“broader urban involvement and leadership development”) began in 1969 as a gang intervention and prevention program on the Northwest Side. In 2011, it moved to a former Shore Bank location in Austin, which has served as headquarters. Construction on the new center, next to the bank building, began in 2021.

BUILD Chicago’s CEO Adam Alonso sits in the organization’s art studio, located at 5100 W. Harrison St. in the Austin neighborhood. The organization just opened its new 50,000 square-foot youth and family center. 

BUILD Chicago CEO Adam Alonso in the organization’s new art studio. The studio is part of an addition to the organization’s headquarters at at 5100 W. Harrison St. in the Austin neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The former bank space, at about 10,000 square feet, accommodated about 100 youths at a time. The new center, built as an addition to the bank space, has room for 1,000, Alonso said.

The art studio is twice as big, while the area for a garden, greenhouses and fruit trees is one-third bigger. And instead of one therapy room, they’ll have seven. Other new amenities include a woodworking space (already open) and a gymnasium and cafe, both expected to open in April.

At the new center, Alonso expects they will be able to expand their offerings to the community at large.

“What I’m most excited for now is this opportunity for an intergenerational approach, for seniors to engage,” Alonso said.

The BUILD Chicago art studio shown in 2021 and in 2023.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times  and  Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Starting in April, the campus will be open to the general public weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., dedicated to youth services from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and open to the public again until 9 p.m., according to a release. The organization expects to eventually extend those hours to Saturday.

The $28 million development was funded mostly by private donors. $5 million came from the state and $2.5 million from the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

Visit www.buildchicago.org to learn more about specific programs and download the BUILD Chicago app to sign up.

“This is the infrastructure that every community should have,” said Kirsten Mallik, the group’s development officer.

BUILD Chicago’s garden, located at 5100 W. Harrison St. in the Austin neighborhood.

BUILD Chicago’s garden, at 5100 W. Harrison St. in the Austin neighborhood. The garden was part of the center’s original campus, but an expansion of that center, a former bank building, allowed the garden to grow by about one-third.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In the past few years, the organization has expanded its youth development focus to career training and Mallik expects the new amenities will further that aim. The new music studio, for example, will keep kids off the street because it’s fun and will help them develop marketable skills in the process.

“If the pop star career doesn’t necessarily work out, but you get the sound board down, then there’s a lot of other career paths that will open up,” she said.

Sean Price, director of the organization’s restorative justice program, grew up in South Austin. He was floored by the new center’s amenities. “This is not something that was available when I was there,” said Price, 54.

Sean Price, director of BUILD Chicago’s restorative justice program, in the lobby of BUILD Chicago in the Austin neighborhood. 

Sean Price, director of BUILD Chicago’s restorative justice program. Part of the group’s expansion project at Harrison Street and Laramie Avenue in Austin includes a prominent ground-floor space for Price’s Peace and Justice Center.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Price’s Peace and Justice Center occupies a prominent space in the building, on the ground floor near the main entrance, illustrating how integral restorative justice is to the organization’s mission. But Price was simply excited for the community to have someplace to spend time.

“It’s where young people can go and be in a safe space ... a place where you can go be a kid.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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