ASPIRE CENTER TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO RESOURCES FOR AUSTIN COMMUNITY

Austin Coming Together, along with Westside Health Authority, broke ground on the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation. The center will house Austin Coming Together, Westside Health Authority, BMO Bank and the Jane Addams Resource Corporation. PHOTO PROVIDED BY AUSTIN COMING TOGETHER.
Austin Coming Together, along with Westside Health Authority, broke ground on the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation. The center will house Austin Coming Together, Westside Health Authority, BMO Bank and the Jane Addams Resource Corporation. PHOTO PROVIDED BY AUSTIN COMING TOGETHER.

 ASPIRE CENTER
TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO
RESOURCES FOR AUSTIN
COMMUNITY

BY TIA CAROL JONES

A new center in the Austin community is aimed at improving the quality of life for its residents. The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation is part of the Aspire Initiative, which was part of the Austin Forward Together Quality of Life Plan.

Once opened, the Aspire Center will house Austin Coming
Together, Westside Health Authority, BMO Bank, as well as the Jane Addams Resource Corporation. It will be located at 5500 W. Madison, the former site of Emmett Elementary School.

Emmett Elementary School closed in 2013. The building was
acquired by Westside Health Authority in 2018. Since then, Austin Coming Together and Westside Health Authority
have been working through planning and fundraising efforts to be able to raise the resources needed to build the center in the way the community envisioned. “The center is a space to
be able to help community residents gain access to employment training, as well as other supportive services they would need to be successful along their career path,” said Darnell Shields, Executive Director of Austin Coming Together.

According to Shields, the Aspire Initiative is a cradle to career continuum to bring significant investment to a concentrated
area within the Austin community, bound by Madison Street and Chicago, Central and Laramie Avenues. The goal is to ensure community residents have access to what they need in order to thrive from early childhood to aging in place. The Aspire Initiative includes an education and wellness campus, led by ‘By the Hand Club’, a reimagining of Austin High School campus and Aspire Housing in addition to the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation.

“All four of these projects make available and accessible for
community residents the types of resources they need simultaneously to give them the opportunity to thrive in their community,” Shields said. The Austin Forward Together Quality of Life Plan listed all of these things as areas they wanted to address. The community in developing the plan, looked beyond investment in programs and took into consideration investments that leveraged the built environment in terms of facilities necessary to house the resources and programs. The hope is the facilities and resources will move the community forward and past their
impediments.

The total for the project is a little less than $41 million.
Construction on the Aspire will take place this month. It is
estimated to take 14-16 months and the anticipated completion date is 2024. The Aspire Center for Workforce Development is the first project of the Aspire Initiative.
The hope is that once this project gets going that it will help
catalyze the launch and start of the other projects.

Shields said the vision for the Austin community is for it
to be a thriving community for its residents in a place where
they can have access to all the opportunities they need to live
above the Federal poverty line, not be in fear of the threat of
crime, to have a stable housing market where there is ownership and have access to high quality education. He added, these are also the things individuals that live in the City of Chicago need to live a high-quality standard of life.
He said in order to have the vision come into fruition, people will have to stay united.

“We’re stronger together and that’s why we’re Austin
Coming Together, because our strength is in being united. It’s
really about continuous collaboration between all the different
stakeholders, resource providers, government agencies, these philanthropic and corporate entities. All of the different sectors really have to work together in order to be able to bring about the transformation that is needed in the community, along with the community,” he said, adding that it should be done for the community, but with the community. For more information about Austin Coming Together, visit austincomingtogether.org.

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