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Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project

UCAN’s Drost-Harding Campus

Before one of Chicago’s oldest social service agencies could leave its long-time home on the Northwest Side of Chicago for a vacant seven-acre site in North Lawndale, UCAN first needed to win over the community.

Thanks to its commitment to take on an even larger role in the communities it had served for decades, UCAN became a partner and stakeholder in North Lawndale. UCAN worked to forge strong relationships with stakeholders, which included aldermen, neighbors, clergy – even gang members. Building those relationships played an instrumental role in transforming a neglected part of the neighborhood into a new state-of-the-art facility that is improving the lives of thousands of young people and contributing to the revitalization of North Lawndale.

As UCAN began to “engage, educate and empower” disparate constituencies, it won over opponents worried UCAN would bring troubled kids into the neighborhood and others who were concerned that the project wouldn’t generate enough local jobs.

“Once the community understood the type of young people UCAN would be housing, saw the hiring plan and the blueprints, their opposition began to fade away,” said Claude Robinson, UCAN’s, Executive Vice President of External Affairs. “Instead, they became engaged, willing to listen and eager to provide input. That built a bond of trust before a shovel ever went in the ground.”

Today the cornerstone of UCAN’s new $43 million campus is the 70-room Diermeier Therapeutic Youth Home and The Nichols Center. They feature a multimedia conference center, a gymnasium, athletic fields and classrooms for more than 30 UCAN programs, including the first of its kind in Illinois, the Restorative Justice Community Court. There are additional spaces for those who experienced trauma – many of whom would lack access to quality, affordable mental health care, if not for UCAN.

Not only did UCAN deliver a state-of-the-art campus, it delivered on its promise to create economic opportunity and build a more diverse workforce. UCAN hired 70 residents from the community for permanent jobs and 350 summer youth employees. In addition, 60 percent of the design and construction contracts went to minority or female-owned firms.

“I believe when you build beautiful things it changes people’s entire perception,” said Pastor James Storey of Sunrise Baptist Church, UCAN’s neighbor.

While the community-focused hiring and design changed the story, the daily work of those inside the impressive new buildings to improve the lives of so many people are what makes it truly beautiful.