New plans for old firehouse

February 1, 2008 3:21:08 PM PST
In a neighborhood where many believe violence often over-shadows opportunity, one group is giving North Lawndale teens a place to call their own.For years, the spot was home to the Chicago Fire Department's Engine 38. Today, the Lawndale Christian Community Church is hoping the place will help rescue a generation of youngsters.

"The Firehouse will be a great way to mentor students from this community and also Little Village and to really build relationships with them and to help them discover their gifts," said Terence Gadsen, youth pastor, Lawndale Community Church.

The plan is to turn a fire station -- complete with its holes in the ceiling, cracked walls and corroded fixtures -- into a community arts center.

Pastor Phil Jackson, whose "hip-hop" church services attract hundreds of teens each month -- says the idea was a natural next step.

"This idea was born by way of the students not being able to do anything or even have access to stretch their potential," said Pastor Jackson. "We want to teach students how to do web design, graphic arts and video editing so they can now take a skill and all of these skills will help students be more marketable whether they go off to college or they have certifications in certain areas so they can go out and actually go out and start working."

Despite the building's current condition, organizers already have pictures of their goal in mind: a state-of-the-art kitchen to teach culinary arts, a dance studio, a graphic arts center and photo lab. This damp basement is slated to house a music recording studio.

"I think this will be a great opportunity for them to come and feel love and also learn about culinary, dance and music production and be mentored at the same time," said Gadsen.

Despite the uphill battle they face in raising funds, organizers deem the $700,000 price tag to renovate the building and hire staff "worth it" to achieve the dream.

"Really it's just grassroots. If you've got ten dollars and you can contribute that and make it happen, that's where we're at. If you've got skills to help us build a recording studio, bring that," said Pastor Jackson.

The Firehouse Community Arts Center is slated to open in September 2008. The organizers are holding their first fund-raiser for the project Saturday night at the Akainya Gallery at 357 West Erie Street From 7pm to 10pm. An original Samuel Akainya painting will be auctioned.

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