Community center struggles to keep doors open to kids as city violence surges

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The Dream Center in Bronzeville was opened to provide a safe space, mentoring and support for children in the neighborhood but it's struggling to keep its doors open. (WLS)

August became Chicago's deadliest month in 20 years with the most murders the city has seen since October of 1996.

Father Michael Pfleger wants Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to declare a state of emergency in Chicago, which would bring in federal money that could help fund programs that provide mentoring and spaces where kids can be safe. In Bronzeville, there is concern that a community center providing those services for neighborhood kids now will close due to lack of money.

It could be the beginning of the end for Bronzeville's Dream Center, a safe haven which has helped keep at-risk neighborhood kids like Khaliah Jackson from harm.

"Holly and Beyonca talks to us, they help us and they warm us like moms at home. That's better than any other place," Jackson said.

Co-founders Holly Melody and Beyonca Johnson said keeping the center open and operating is not a question of commitment but of money. The center owes $20,000 in back rent and will be evicted soon. Since opening in June of 2015 the pair said they've used tens of thousands of dollars from their own incomes to keep the doors open, and have received few outside donations.

"It's not like we don't make money, but it's like the money that we make it has to go back into these kids because they show up hungry, they show up wanting things and needing resources," said Medley.

"I had a time when my car got repossessed right in front of the Dream Center," said Johnson.

The community is somewhat aware of their needs; upon hearing of their plight two Chicago beat cops unexpectedly stopped by with a small donation. But more than the occasional small donation is needed.

Using a sports motif to get kids in the door, organizers said the center - also known as Hollywood Dreamers - helps at elast 50 to 75 kids a day with everything from food, to homework, to other life skills like conversation. It also provides mentoring. And most importantly, it gives the kids hope.

"What happens to these babies that I, you know-this is it for them," Johnson said.

The women fear that without the center as a safe place of support, neighborhood kids will no longer be sheltered from the violence. They hope the community will help.

"We really just took a leap of faith and wanted to provide a solution for our community, to say, hey, we're here, we support you, let's make change," Melody said.
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chicago violencecommunitychildrenChicago - BronzevilleChicago - Auburn Gresham
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