A community center for homeless youth is set up on the south side

GREATER GRAND CROSSING – A nearly 100-year-old church that sat vacant for years is reopening as a community center for young adults experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

The Lyte Collectivea group that supports young adults affected by poverty and homelessness, will open the Lyte Lounge, a $1.8 million youth center for young adults this summer.

Group members renovated the interior of the former Black Methodist for Church Renewal, 549 E. 76th St., tearing down the walls and renovating the ceilings and floors of the 11,000 square foot church to bring their vision.

The center will provide youth ages 16 to 30 with a well-stocked kitchen, full showers, overnight and long-term storage, a clinic and laundry facilities, among other services. A music studio, art room, gymnasium and yoga room — called the Nest — will provide young people with a place to relax and express themselves artistically.

The group has spent years raising funds and securing grants for the center. A six-figure loan gave them the final impetus to open.

The goal is to create a “safe space where young people can hang out,” said general manager Casey Holtschneider.

“We wanted to get back to that traditional community center vibe,” Holtschneider said. “You can come here and play basketball and do yoga, but while you’re here you can have a meal, make a sandwich, take a shower and not have to tell anyone. We are here to help young people, whatever their needs, wherever they are, for as long as they want.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
LYTE Lounge, a community center for youth affected by poverty and homelessness, at 549 E. 76th St. in Greater Grand Crossing on July 6, 2022.

“There is history here”

The small team behind Lyte Collective have been working from their cars since 2015, meeting young people wherever they are, said Carl Wiley, chief innovation officer.

Whether it was a McDonald’s or a Starbucks, the team would pop up to help find housing and employment or offer therapy and parenting support.

Aldus. Sixth-grade Roderick Sawyer, whose neighborhood includes the old church, was the first to tell the collective about the building, Holtschneider said. Built in 1926, the church was vacant for years in the late 2000s. Sawyer told them they “had to check the space,” she said.

When the organizers entered the church, they started kissing, Holtschneider said. It was “beautiful,” she said. They had finally found a home.

The Lyte Collective purchased the church in 2017 for just over $100,000, Holtschneider said. Construction began in 2019. Bowa Group, a black-owned business, and DAAM, LLC managed the renovations.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The common room of the LYTE Lounge.

The collective hoped to open in 2020, but the pandemic put a stop to their plans, Holtschneider said. Still, neighbors who saw the building being revived stopped and told how they had played basketball in the church gymnasium or spent days at daycare, she said.

“The space meant a lot to people, and they didn’t want to come here and see it demolished,” Holtschneider said. “There is history here.”

Along the way, the collective met its “secret angel,” Holtschneider said. They would visit the living room and find the grass had been cut or the snow had been shoveled, Wiley said.

Jerome Davis, who lives across the street, handled the chores, Wiley said.

The collective added him to the team in 2017, Holtschneider said. Davis came out of retirement to become the building’s chief engineer, she said.

“You can’t dream of anything better than walking across the street to an amazing human being who knows everything you don’t know,” Holtschneider said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The LYTE Lounge basketball court.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Tanka Bradford shows off the LYTE living room kitchen.

The Lyte Lounge will be the collective’s first internal operations center.

The group will continue to offer mobile support because “the South Side is convenient for some young people, but not for all,” Wiley said. But it’s exciting to have a central location, he says.

“We’re changing our dynamic on his head,” Wiley said. “We are thrilled to open the doors and have everything here now.”

The Lyte Collective served about 150 young people in 2021, Holtschneider said. It has already exceeded that number this year and plans to double the number of people it helps once the center opens, she said.

“The hardest thing is feeling alone in the world,” Holtschneider said. “My biggest dream is for you to come in and feel like your people are here, and have a place where you belong – where you can breathe and just be.”

The lounge will have a long list of amenities, including a computer room and a playroom for children. A full-service kitchen will also serve as a community hub where youth can connect and eat and a cafe where youth can serve coffee and small bites for work.

“We provide a safe environment to learn these skills,” Wiley said. “Sometimes young people get their first job and it’s like diving into the deep end. You can make mistakes here.

A “made to get dirty” art studio is filled with easels and brushes, and the nest has giant beanbags.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The LYTE Lounge art studio.

One of the highlights of the living room will be a music studio.

The rounded studio has guitars on the walls, a recording booth, and a 1933 grand piano. Computers are outfitted with personal audio workspaces so youngsters can “get their feet wet with the recording.”

Wiley, a lifelong musician, will run the studio and teach lessons.

Art is “a cathartic thing for young people,” Wiley said. The music studio is one of many rooms in the living room that will hopefully provide relief from the world’s many stressors, he said.

“A lot of young people who are going through really difficult things and may not feel comfortable talking to someone in a therapy session or, in addition to therapy, may want to express themselves and get rid of certain things,” Wiley said.

“That’s what this space is. You walk in, take something off the wall and play it.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The LYTE Lounge recording studio.

The collective hopes to open the Lyte Lounge in a few weeks, Holtschneider said. The members are waiting for a certificate of occupation of the city. Entry will be by appointment only in the first few months while organizers “discover a stream,” Holtschneider said.

As they expand, members of the group hope to raise more money to provide adequate services to young people, Holtschneider said. They took out a $400,000 loan to complete the show, and it will cost about $800,000 a year to run, Holtschneider said.

Despite the obstacles it took to get here, there is only hope ahead of us.

The collective is “removing the stigma” in the service industry by helping people of all ages “get the support they need,” Holtschneider said.

“When people need help, they need it immediately. They need people in their lives,” Holtschneider said. “Our target is housing instability and homelessness, but we are extending admission to all young people because we want them to always be there to be connected even when they are not in crisis. “

You can donate to support the Lyte Collective here.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A daycare at the LYTE Lounge.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Tanka Bradford shows the “nest” room of the LYTE lounge.

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