Eric Young Smith
It was 15 years ago when Bill Curry, then Breakthrough Urban Ministries’ youth director, began talking with young people in East Garfield Park about what they’d like to see in a new recreational center. At the time, Breakthrough’s youth program was operating out of a cramped, second-floor space at its women’s center and realized it would sooner or later need more room.
“Not a youth center,” the kids said, “but a place for the whole family.”
In 2015 their vision was realized when the 42,500-square- foot Breakthrough FamilyPlex opened at Carroll and Kedzie avenues. While many of the activities there center on out-of- school-time programming for youth, as the young people suggested, it’s a place for the entire family. The Center has a two-court gymnasium, a fitness center, six academic classrooms, a playground, a community cafe´, an art studio and a 10 exam-room medical clinic operated by the Lawndale Christian Health Center.
Beautifully designed with interior glass walls and expansive windows, Lawndale residents say the building stands as a reminder of the community’s strength and endurance.
“It’s very uplifting for a community that’s sometimes been forgotten,” says Breakthrough Executive Director Arloa Sutter. “It’s a symbol of hope.”
The Center has already become a hub for community events, neighborhood coalitions, professional trainings and civic engagement as well as a place where neighborhood residents gather. “Families don’t see Breakthrough as a program,” said Curry, the organization’s chief program officer, “but as a community they could be a part of.”
Lamar Taylor was 12 when Curry sought his advice about what the new center should be. He pushed for a safe place for kids. “It’s not every day you dream up something on this level and it comes about,” said Taylor, who’s now 25 and working at Breakthrough as a teacher. “It shows you what East Garfield Park is about.”