Our mission at Blessed Sacrament is to support and nurture the lives of the young people of North Lawndale so that they will grow to become happy and productive citizens. We do this by offering our youth a wide variety of educational, sports and recreational programming with a particular emphasis on programming emphasizing self-responsibility, accountability and personal achievement.
The North Lawndale community, located only three miles southwest of Chicago’s Loop near Douglas Park, was once the home to Chicago’s Jewish community with many synagogues and Jewish businesses. Then beginning in the 1950’s, many African Americans from the Deep South moved to North Lawndale in order to take jobs in manufacturing. Soon afterwards, however, many of those manufacturing jobs disappeared as companies moved to the then developing suburbs and surrounding areas. Sadly, many social ills ensued.
Today, North Lawndale suffers from high rates of poverty, substance abuse and unemployment. And indeed, most of the youth in North Lawndale today are raised in single female headed households with few resources and many challenges. They attend underperforming elementary schools and high schools with low graduation rates and live amid gangs and constant violence. The time period after school in particular is critical as many young people – lacking any positive activities to engage in – then become involved in drugs, gangs and violence.
In 1987, two recent college graduates arrived at Blessed Sacrament parish in North Lawndale in order to perform a year of community service. However, soon after they arrived, they discovered that there were few after-school activities for youth leaving many to wander the streets and be tempted by the neighborhood’s lesser influences. So they then set about to begin their own youth ministry in an abandoned two flat and thus Blessed Sacrament Youth Center came to be. We began as an after-school drop-in center with a single basketball hoop in an unheated garage, a ping pong table and fewer than a dozen members.
Today and Our Future
What began so small soon began to grow. Eventually, a part time youth director was hired and later a full time director with many parish volunteers assisting. We then added more programming such as tutoring, computer lab, arts and crafts and field trips to serve more youth.
By 2007, we had outgrown our original two flat and moved into the then vacant Blessed Sacrament church to expand our outreach to the community. With our new larger facility we were able to vastly expand our programming and the number of youth we serve. In our new facility we now have a full NCAA regulation-size basketball court, weight room, stage, reading room, computer lab and full kitchen. We now serve between 70 and 100 youth ages 7 to 18 everyday after school and on Saturdays with typically over 200 registered members. We offer tutoring, sports, arts and crafts and other recreational activities all designed to improve and better the lives of the young people of North Lawndale. And with your help our future is limitless!