“When they go to the center, they feel free”

PULLMAN – For many years, much of the land west of the Bishop Ford Highway in Pullman was largely undeveloped, with few businesses occupying that part of the neighborhood.

Today, the area is home to major centers operated by Gotham Greens, Amazon, Method Soap Company, Whole Foods and more.

The area is also home to another towering structure that has become a neighborhood rock, helping the lives of neighborhood children: the Pullman Community Center at 10355 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Rising from vacant land four years ago, the center is now a gathering place for community members, especially children, who have access to sports, cultural and academic activities.

With a place where students, athletes, families and other community members can gather, the Pullman Community Center has become an important neighborhood resource since opening in 2018.

“I saw the concrete pour,” said Kevin Coe, assistant general manager of the Pullman Community Center. “I’ve seen them lay the turf on the grass courts, I’ve seen them lay the basketball courts. I’ve been here since I started in September 2018. So to watch this build and come up in eight weeks was amazing.

Built by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives on what was once a vacant 12-acre lot at 104th and Woodlawn Avenue, the center also hosts league games and tournaments for Chicago’s sports programs and schools.

The facility has basketball and volleyball courts; grass fields for indoor baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer; batting and pitching cages for baseball and softball practice; a concession area as well as an education center.

Some of the sports programs are managed by Coe, who assists General Manager Kristin Curtis with the day-to-day administration of the center. Coe, after leaving his position with the Chicago White Sox as director of youth baseball, was hired by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to join center as youth baseball manager. He also runs the community center website.

Credit: Pullman Community Center
The Pullman Community Center has an indoor court where teams like the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy baseball team regularly practice.

The idea for a community center in the 9th arrondissement came from Beale nearly 20 years ago. Beale, who coached little league for more than 25 years, noticed that local sports leagues had no place in the community to train and always had to travel for games.

The alderman struggled to find donors who could help him make his dream a reality. He helped raise $20 million in funding through investments, grants, and donations from the City of Chicago; Chicago Bears; Chicago Cubs charities; Chicago Community Loan Fund; the Chicago Environmental Loan Fund; Chicago Housing Authority and a host of others.

The project also received additional funding of $5 million from New Markets Tax Credits provided by Citibank, US Bank and NCIF.

Beale said it was also important to him to provide a place for young people in Pullman, Roseland and other 9th Ward neighborhoods to go and engage in positive activities.

“We think outside the box, and we knew a community center, where thousands of people a week come in and out of the Pullman Community Center – that’s thousands of people who are involved in something positive, off the street, doing something positive, whether it’s hobbies or sports or tutoring or training. I mean, you name it, we do it,” he said.

Credit: Provided by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives
The Pullman Community Center was built on 12 acres in the neighborhood.

The community center is also home to several partner organizations and sports teams. The Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy baseball team, which played Lane Tech in the Chicago Public School Baseball Championship Game in May, practices regularly at the center.

Like many participants at the center 5:30 p.m. Academic program for scholarship holdersseveral athletes who trained there went on to receive college scholarships.

Pullman resident Sylus Green is the co-founder of the 5:30 Scholars program, originally based in Evanston as a partnership between Green’s MyT Training program and Lemi-Ola Erinkitola’s The Critical Thinking Child program. When the parents began to find it difficult to make the long trip from Chicago to Evanston, Green began looking for places in the city where the 5:30 Scholars program could settle more comfortably.

“We’ve had enough of the lack of academic resources needed to advance our children,” Green said. “So we became the resource.”

Credit: Pullman Community Center
Youth from the Pullman Community Center play basketball.

In the 5:30 Scholars program, parents are trained to support students ages 5 to 17 in intensive math and reading programs. They also offer college prep opportunities, mentoring, community service initiatives, STEM activities, and economic development skills.

Students participating in the program have received more than $10 million in scholarships over the past three years. Green attributes this to having resources in the neighborhood for the majority of young black people living in and around Pullman.

For Green, who lives in the neighborhood, the Pullman Community Center has been an “oasis” for families like hers, those who have long searched for a place their family could go for safe peer socialization and academic opportunities. and sports.

“From my personal family experience, I think it’s important for kids to be able to play there and I think a lot of times people take that for granted,” Green said. “It’s the only place, unfortunately, because of the violence in the neighborhood, where they can just play without the parents coming near.

“Because I know it’s different, that they’re free. Like, when they go to the center, they feel free.

Currently, the center receives no ongoing grants from local government agencies to operate, so donations help offset the costs of running the center’s programs and provide scholarships for athletes.

Coe said his personal goal for the Pullman Community Center is for participants in the Pullman Ballers baseball program, most of whom are around 15, to receive college scholarships.

He also wants to establish a free program where athletes in the program can play all year round.

“It’s important to me, because I hope we change lives,” Coe said, “As an educator, you’re taught that if you change a life, you make a difference. I think we change so many lives, we provide an opportunity for so many more organizations, so many more young people in our community, so many more partnerships that allow our community to grow.

The Pullman Community Center.

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Jill E. Washington