When a young couple brought their newborn baby boy home from the hospital, their five-year-old daughter kept asking them if she could hold her little brother. They told her, “Not now,” and they continuously had to tell her “No” for the next few weeks as she kept asking over and over. They were afraid somehow that she would drop or scare parents of an infant might come to pass. However, after a few weeks, they finally relented and allowed her to hold her baby brother. When that moment finally arrived, she sat anxiously on the couch with her arms open, ready to cradle him. As she held him, her parents overheard her whispering into his ear, “Baby brother, what does God Feel like — I’m starting to forget?”
Those of us who live and serve youth and young adults in North Lawndale do so with the sincere hope they will never forget what God feels like, yet with violence and crime smothering our streets they do forget and sometimes lose any childlike innocence that remains within them. We want all young people to intimately feel embraced by the risen Christ even if their world seems to be falling apart. Well, that embrace was most evident this past Labor Day weekend when young people from North Lawndale, Little Village and the Old St. Pats Foundations Youth Group joined together for Workday 2013. They gathered at the 9,800 square foot Firehouse Community Arts Center at the corner of South Hamlin and West Ogden Avenue. This is an old Chicago firehouse being renovated into a state of the art youth and young adult Art Center with facilities that will accommodate a tech lab, a dance studio, visual art classes, culinary arts,
and a recording studio. It is due to open in the fall of 2013. The vision is for it to be a place of learning, fun, faith, creativity, and a safe haven from deadly street crime and violence on Chicago’s west side.
In a powerful show of love and service, more than 70 young people and adults, black, brown and white, stepped into the pain and hope that young people of North Lawndale live out every day. In fact, WorkDay 2013 at the Firehouse was so moving that one person quipped, “Today, the teens from Old St. Pat’s and Little Village came to own it with us.” You should have seen it. Their authentic love, engaging conversations, laughter and all the amazing work and heavy lifting moved those who were present from being participants in a work project in the morning to being unified pilgrims on a movement of hope by the afternoon. True family, true community, truly uthentic kindred connections took shape that day. One young person said, “Think about it; we started out as omplete strangers at 9 a.m. but by 4 p.m. we were sharing a meal and stories and laughing together in the Old St. Pat’s Church Hall. Now we need to keep the momentum going.”
The Firehouse Ministry is grateful to Becky Gee, Vince Guider, Chris Eagan and all who are associated with the Old St. Pat’s Foundations Youth Ministry and the North Lawndale Kinship Initiative. We also are indebted to J.L. Rolloff Service, Inc, for donating a dumpster that the work crews filled to capacity by the end of the day. Everything went smoothly because of the able management of Dennis LaMantia, an Old. St. Pat’s member and the WorkDay Project Coordinator.
William Weimholt of the Kinship Initiative Leadership Team added his much needed knowledge and skills on construction to oversee several critical projects. John Doheny and Emily Byrne, the Workday Adult Chairs, and Merideth Anderson and Danny O’Conner, the Teen Chairs for the site, centered, guided and inspired us all. The gifts and enthusiasm of Mary Oakes, Allyn Pilewski, David Pokraka and all the other teens and adults also made the day completely enjoyable and successful.
In the end, an incredibly beautiful glass and tile mosaic was installed. A huge exterior brick wall was whitewashed in preparation for a mural to be painted at a later date. Ultra-modern donated office furniture was put together in a complicated assembly process. Several walls, ceilings and floors received fresh coats of primer, paint, and sealant. Several drywalls were set, windows and floors got scraped and cleaned, refuse was hauled out, and bathroom fixtures installed. The Firehouse renovation took a huge leap forward toward the place of joy and hope that it promises to be in the near future.
This all happened on WorkDay 2013 because a large group of youth and adults remembered what God feels like. Consequently, we are on a roll toward finishing Phase One of the firehouse renovation and then opening the first and second floor facilities in the near future where we will host culinary classes, visual arts and poetry sessions. Phase Two will include our second floor where we will have a tech lab, dance studio and administrative offices. We pray for support to complete Phase Three which includes production studios slated for the basement level and a new elevator. The elevator is especially vital for those with disabilities who need to get to the second and basement floors. Later on, we also hope to construct exterior balcony and courtyard areas and also improve the outer façade and open-air gathering areas.
We are ever so close to fulfilling our dream of an arts center that can help transform the lives of our youth and families. We use the word ART as an acronym for “Art as Redemptive and Transformational.” This is what our relationship with Old St. Pat’s, others in our community and Christ can be — transforming. I want to thank the parents, youth, adult leaders, all volunteers, those who prayed for our success and those who donated supplies and resources. As that young person said, we look forward to a long, kindred relationship with Old St. Pat’s in which miracles will become the norm. May we continually share God’s loving touch with one another.
Much love, Old St. Pat’s, much love!
Pastor Phil Jackson is Associate Pastor of Lawndale Community Church, Lead Pastor of the House Church, and Founder and Executive Director of the Firehouse Community Art Center.
Learn more about Pastor Jackson and the Firehouse Community Arts Center Ministry at www.thaFirehouse.org.