The Family Focus logo is featured on each site plan concept for the planned Fifth Ward Foster Park Campus. But Family Focus Chief Executive and President Dara Munson said it’s still undecided exactly how the organization will be a partner on the project.

Dara Munson, CEO and president of Family Focus, attends the Dec. 7 Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center meeting to discuss plans for the Fifth Ward school campus. Credit: Richard Cahan

The situation makes the planning much more complicated, as the negotiations are actually between the community, two governmental bodies and a third nonprofit nongovernmental organization. 

“We have been in conversation and had a few meetings and discussions with the district [65] and with the city, including Council Member Bobby Burns [5th Ward], on what their thoughts are, and again, how Family Focus could play a role, if at all,” Munson said.

Family Focus is based just 700 feet from the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and therefore is affected because of its proximity to the project as well as its commitment to the community, Munson said.

The respected social service organization has served the community since the mid-1970s.

The Grandmothers Raising Grandkids writing group at Family Focus. Credit: Submitted photo

Family Focus awarded ARPA funds from city

No decisions have been made on how Family Focus will figure into the partnership of building the new school and the possible redevelopment of Fleetwood- Jourdain, Munson said, even as it’s understood that Family Focus should be involved.

The Family Focus building, formerly Foster School (RoundTable photo)

Family Focus is progressing toward its own redevelopment. In July, it was awarded $3 million in ARPA funds to renovate its 1905 building, the former Foster School. It plans to begin engaging with the community in January to determine what people want to see improved, Munson said. In general, the goal is to renovate the roughly 58,000-square foot building to ensure it’s fully utilized, she said.

Family Focus will not partake in assessing the survey the city released about the campus project, because, as of now, it doesn’t have any decision making regarding the campus, she said.

“We have decided to be a good partner,” Munson said in reference to Family Focus’ relationship with District 65 and the city. “These things evolve and change, so with each new day, there’s different information. We don’t know where things will go with the city, but we want to be sure that our abilities to be of service to Fifth Ward residents remains what it is today and could possibly grow depending on the needs of the community.”

But there are signs that strong communication is not yet there. 

Alex Lopez from the architecture firm Cordogan, Clark & Associates told the RoundTable after the the Fifth Ward campus community meeting that the Fleetwood-Jourdain programs would be moved to the Family Focus building during construction if the city decides to go forward with a site plan that tears down and rebuilds the community center.

“Family Focus has graciously offered to host some of these programs,” Lopez said in an interview with the RoundTable after the Dec. 6 meeting.

The RoundTable reached out to City Manager Luke Stowe to comment on the issue. He responded via email: “I’m not aware of any specific conversations between the city and Family Focus about relocating programs to their facility. But, of course, Family Focus would play a key role, and we would have conversations with Dara Munson and her staff about the possibility of relocating programs if it made sense for all stakeholders.”

The Foster Park Campus project will take an estimated 18 to 24 months to complete, Lopez said. When asked if Family Focus is equipped to host the community center’s programs, Munson said, “That’s interesting. I think that would have to be assessed.” 

Munson said that none of the other partners involved in the Foster Park Campus project have mentioned this possibility to her. 

Family Focus doesn’t have a preference among the four proposed site plans, Munson said. “Our intent is to support what the community wants,” she said.

Evanston Cradle to Career, which is located in the Family Focus building, also abstained from saying which site plan it favors. Three of the four proposed site plans involve tearing down and rebuilding the community center.

Kimberly Holmes-Ross, interim executive director and director of Community Engagement at Evanston Cradle to Career, said Fifth Ward residents have a lot of love for the Fleetwood-Jourdain building.

“The Fifth Ward has taken a lot of hits, so I’m sure for many residents, it just feels like something else,” Holmes-Ross said. “There’s not a lot of trust, I think we heard that Tuesday, but I think Dr. [Devon] Horton said it best, ‘Give us a chance.’”

Holmes-Ross said she feels optimistic about the future of the project. 

“Whatever is in the works is going to be bigger and better for our children, and maybe not necessarily for us in the moment … but knowing that in the future, things will be better,” she said.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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