“This is a great way to share resources with our refugee communities, our immigrant communities and our historically underserved Black community,” City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza said of the welcoming center that received funding at Monday’s meeting. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

Evanston City Council members on Monday, Oct. 24, unanimously approved a request for $500,000 in federal COVID-19 recovery funds to establish a welcoming center for new residents, providing an array of services as they acclimate to their new community.

Council members voted 9-0 to support Family Focus, one of the city’s longest-established social services agencies, using federal funds to develop and launch the center at the agency’s building at 2010 Dewey Ave.

The agency’s request came as both the city’s Latino and immigrant populations continue to show steady growth.

The percentage of Latinos in 2020 has almost doubled since 2000, playing a large role in the city’s population growth, pointed out Ana Elizarraga, a city Housing and Economic Development analyst, in a memo to the council.

Evanston’s foreign-born population is now between 18% and 19%, she reported, with countries of origin including Mexico (the largest foreign-born group in Evanston), Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Haiti, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, India, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Family Focus, a family support organization founded in 1976, currently serves immigrant and refugee populations in Aurora , Cicero and on Chicago’s northwest side.

The agency’s programs at those sites include assistance with the citizenship process by accredited staff, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting children from deportation) renewal, interpretation services, ESL and GED classes, citizenship classes, referrals to health care, education and employment resources, through the State of Illinois – Illinois Welcome Centers program, Elizarraga noted.

At Family Focus, the community members will also be able to draw on some of the services provided by some of the other agencies housed in the building.

Council discussion

In discussion, Council Member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, expressed her support for the program.

At the same time, she said she feels the city needs a coordinator, ensuring the funds the city is allocating to third party agencies “are being put to best use and that they’re accessed to their maximum.”

Newly appointed City Council Member Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward, a former Family Focus board member, expressed confidence that the agency will provided the coordination and support the program will need.

“But I must go on record to say that I’ve heard residents say that we need to do better for our residents,” said Harris, whose ward includes African American families who have lived in Evanston for generations.

“So I’m going to be clear that I’ve heard that and share that I’ve heard that – that we’re giving this money, but that we need to pay attention to our residents in Evanston.”

Evanston City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza and Ninth Ward Council Member Juan Geracaris, the first Hispanic officials in prominent city administrative positions, were among those speaking in support of the proposal at the Oct. 24 meeting before the council vote.

“This is a great way to share resources with our refugee communities, our immigrant communities and our historically underserved Black community,” Mendoza said. “I myself benefited a lot from the programs that Family Focus provided,” she said, citing the nursery and teen mothers program.

Geracaris noted the importance of locating all the services in one spot: “Having one place for them to go that’s welcoming and keep them in touch with all the other agencies I think is so important.”

With approval, Family Focus officials plan to meet with focus groups to determine the need and interests in programs at the new center.

Their plans call for rolling out the welcoming center on Jan. 1, 2023, with a ribbon cutting ceremony to be held in February.

An estimated $418,540 of federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds are to go toward program operations and $60,000 for startup costs.

Also, among other actions at the Oct. 24 meeting, council members:

  •  Accepted the Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) update.
    The plan reported that the city has made “significant progress” implementing the plan since 2018. However, “capturing greenhouse gas emissions inventory data and measuring progress remains a complicated exercise to balance with CARP implementation considering limited staff resource,” reported Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator.
  • Continued a public hearing on the city’s 2023 budget to a yet-determined date, after some speakers raised concern that greater notice wasn’t given.
  • Read into the record a proclamation honoring Second Baptist Church, at 1717 Benson Ave., on its 140th anniversary. The church was the first Black Baptist church in Evanston, established Nov. 17, 1882. The church is known for its “powerful preaching, excellent musical ministry, wide-ranging missionary work and a revitalized congregation that became even more progressive and community-minded in the 1970s,” read Mayor Daniel Biss.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. I think it’s great that Evanston is doing this. At the same time, it seems very hypocritical to me that we can unify around something like this but when they try to convert the Margarita Inn into a place to help addicts, homeless people, and our actual physical neighbors, the town will show up to oppose.

  2. Being charitable is a component of good character.

    The city of Evanston models that, which, in a good way, is contagious to all of those who live there.

    Look for it in the eyes, in the actions and in the hearts of those who live and or work in Evanston.