CHICAGO (CBS) -- After years of disinvestment, there are new and important resources coming to the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
They are all housed in one new Healthy Lifestyle Hub at 839 W. 79th St., just west of Halsted Street. We have been following the development of the building for many months, and on Friday, CBS 2's Irika Sargent was there for the grand opening.
You may remember in July, Sargent and CBS 2's Joe Donlon were at the same building for a special half-hour report about the response to mass shootings on the city's South and West sides. We chose the Healthy Lifestyle Hub as the backdrop for that newscast as a sign of hope for the real change that can be made at the community level – when investments are made in our neighborhoods.
The building at 839 W. 79th St. was built in 1925. The former furniture store had been sitting vacant for the last 25 years. It is right next to Leo High School on 7901 S. Sangamon St., and students had to walk past the shuttered building on the way to school.
The Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation set its sights on developing a project that would serve the whole community – a building that would house medical and dental services, a pharmacy, a café, a bank, and so much more.
On Friday, they celebrated that dream coming to life. During the grand opening celebration from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., residents walked through an open house to learn about all the resources coming to the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. More than 600 guests were expected in all.
Carlos Nelson, chief executive officer of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, was the one who first had the idea for the Healthy Lifestyle Hub.
"We've been working on this since literally 2016 as a vision to bring back to life this vacant 60,000 square-foot building that's just sat ominously right near 79th and Halsted – the busiest bus line in the entire city of Chicago," Nelson said.
The Chicago Bears were a major benefactor, donating more than $600,000 for the project.
"When the Chicago Bears heard about our work doing the Racial Equity Rapid Response task force; doing COVID response work in Auburn Gresham, they wanted to get involved with what we were doing," Nelson said.
One of the missions with which the Bears signed on was to bring high-quality health care. Another was to demonstrate ways to show how food can be used as medicine – in the form of a high-tech teaching kitchen, Nelson said.
In all, the Auburn Gresham Development Corporation secured nearly $20 million for the project. The Pritzker Traubert Foundation was a major benefector.
Also among the components of the facility are a UI Health Clinic and urgent care center operated by the University of Illinois at Chicago on the second floor, along with a pharmacy. The urgent care center will provide medical, dental, and mental health care, and expects to serve 30,000 patients in the next year alone.
On the third floor, neighbors can connect with Heartland Alliance, which aims to help people out of poverty for jobs, housing, and family services. The UIC Neighborhood Center will also have a spot offering tutoring and small business workshops.
On the first floor, there will be a Bank of America and a local Black-owned restaurant and coffee shop.
Sargent spoke to a woman who conducts diabetes education, and she said there are also plans for a diabetes educational workshop at the Healthy Lifestyle Hub.
Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation senior director Linda Johnson emphasized the need for better health care in Auburn Gresham.
"Auburn Gresham has been suffering from many, many health inequities for over the years," she said, "and because of the high population of seniors in the community, this is a dream come true."
Johnson emphasized that the first person to die of COVID-19 in Chicago was an Auburn Gresham resident. Patricia Frieson, 61, died in mid-March 2020.
The new hub will add over also add 150 jobs to the community, with the goal of building wealth for generations to come who live in the area.
The next goal for the Healthy Lifestyle Hub is to open a women's health center for prenatal and postnatal care. A senior activity center, a fitness center, and a food pantry are also planned at the Healthy Lifestyle Hub in the future, Nelson said.
Some are calling it the Miracle on 79th Street.
Nelson was thrilled to see hundreds of people turn out at the grand opening Friday evening.
"This is so special to me, and I get asked, how do I feel about this? I'm most excited about the smiles, and the faces, and the glimmers in the eyes," he said. "This is really about the community – the community taking ownership of this as their project; their building."
Meanwhile, the great news keeps coming for Auburn Gresham. Auburn Gardens, a $40 million affordable housing development, is being built right across the street from the hub.
A $35 million Metra Electric Line station is also set to open down the street in 2024.
Community leaders say these efforts will not only provide opportunities, but also help in violence prevention.
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