In a move to be closer to the communities it serves, the youth development group UCAN will open its new headquarters in North Lawndale on Monday.

UCAN’s programs include youth counseling, teen parenting and violence prevention.

The new building, the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Center, is on UCAN’s Drost Harding campus along with its Diermeier Therapeutic Youth Home, which opened in September.

The Nichols Center, at 3605 W. Fillmore St., will house a variety of UCAN’s program services and administrative offices. The new building features an open boardroom and open office spaces.

“No one will have their own office,” UCAN president and CEO Zack Schrantz said. “Transparency is very important to the governing board.”

A community lab for the youth, a multimedia conference space for youth programs and private family meeting rooms are in the front of the building.

The old youth center was on California and Mozart and had become “functionally obsolete,” said Robert Adducci, a member of the UCAN President’s Board.

Adducci, Schrantz and UCAN’s CEO Emeritus Tom Vanden Berk got together in 2007 to plan for what programs they wanted to offer and where they wanted to offer them over the next 50 years.

“We made a very purposeful decision to stay in Chicago,” Schrantz said. UCAN wanted to be closer to the communities it served.

Youth development group UCAN opens its new headquarters in North Lawndale on Monday. The building's design, including that of its boardroom,emphasizes large, open spaces.

Youth development group UCAN opens its new headquarters in North Lawndale on Monday. The building’s design, including that of its boardroom,emphasizes large, open spaces.| Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

The company raised $41 million for the new campus over the past five years, Schrantz said. The headquarters building cost $12 million.

Partnering with the North Lawndale community was vital because many of the youths in UCAN’s programs live in the area, he said.

There was some initial resistance from neighbors because companies had failed to deliver on promises in the past, Schrantz said.

Based on community feedback, he said, employment opportunities were the main community concern. The organization has since employed local residents to help with construction and security, Schrantz said. And because stable, permanent positions are the real solution, the UCAN chief executive said the organization has hired 70 local residents for permanent jobs for the company and over 350 summer youth employees.

It was also important to the organization to have diversity in employment. Accordingly, 60 percent of the design and construction contracts went to minority or female firms, Schrantz said.

“Some of the people who were youth in UCAN are now in leadership positions within the company,” said former West Side resident Briana Owens, a UCAN summer intern.

Community support no longer seems to be a problem. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, dozens of neighbors came to support the opening of the new headquarters.

“I was so happy that they were going to do something in our neighborhood,” said Dorothy Ferguson, a North Lawndale resident. Ferguson said she was a strong supporter of the project from the beginning. With a laugh, she even recalled helping “dig the dirt” for the new building’s foundation.

Formerly known as the Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, UCAN was founded in Chicago 147 years ago, Schrantz said. “I guess you could say we’re long term investors.”