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“It makes me feel overwhelmed when a Family Focus kid comes in and says, ‘Because of you I got my master’s. Because of you I’m a doctor.’ What we do at Family Focus mattered to them. What we say puts them on the right track. I had one participant come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember the spelling bees? Sometimes I was the first one sitting down, but I never gave up.’ And I said, ‘I admired you for never giving up.’ She knew. Now her son is coming here after school every day – just like she did to get the same tools.”
These words from the 2016 “Family Focus: 40 Years + 40 Stories” pamphlet come from Joann Avery, the Senior Staff Program Coordinator for Family Focus in Evanston.
Now due to a loss of funding from the State of Illinois and the need for expensive repairs, Family Focus Inc. has decided to sell Evanston’s Family Focus building. But a local coalition is forming to raise money to keep the Fifth Ward institution. (See the Nov. 16 RoundTable article in print or online).
The Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building at 2010 Dewey Ave., across a greenway from the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, has been an anchoring presence in the Fifth Ward community since it was built in 1912. The building housed Foster School and King Lab School before it became the home of Family Focus in 1984. Since then Family Focus programs – and the skilled and caring adults who lead them as staff or volunteers – have provided many layers of sustenance and stability to several generations of Fifth Ward residents.
Evanston Family Focus offers a range of vital programs, include the Fatherhood Initiative, Parents as Teachers, and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren as well as a range of supportive services through its Family Advocacy Center. The afterschool programming includes literacy enrichment, STEM, and social-emotional resiliency and offers a safe and nurturing haven for children and teens when many parents are working. The City of Evanston “shots fired calls” incident reports show a majority of gun fire incidents occur in the area immediately surrounding Family Focus.
As the hub of an interconnected web of resources and relationships in the Fifth Ward, the Family Focus building also houses nonprofit organizations that coalesce with the Family Focus mission: AFSCME, Alliance Advocacy, CEDA, WIC, Children’s Advocacy Center, Delta Sigma Theta, Evanston Cradle to Career, Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, Junior Wildkits, Kingsway Preperatory, Literature for All of Us, McGaw YMCA’s Head Start and Foster Reading programs, and Evanston branch of the NAACP, and Oakton Community College’s English as a Second Language classes (conducted in the library).
Colette Allen, the Director of Family Focus Evanston, has her own deep ties to the building. “My mom’s 90. She and her sisters and her brother went to school in this building,” she said. “This community has lost a hospital, the YMCA – this is the last African American institution here. It’s very important to this community.
“I’m happy to say we are still looking for a way to keep the building and to keep Family Focus and the tenants in the building as a resource to the community,” said Ms. Allen. “And we are working hard to make that happen.”