The Salvation Army Freedom Center in West Humboldt Park last month hosted Rush University’s Health Fair, where 140 Chicago children received free checkups and learned about healthy choices. Dozens of medical student and faculty volunteers from Rush University greeted visitors, provided vaccinations and performed free medical exams including blood pressure checks and vaccinations against meningitis.
Visitors picked up information on healthy eating choices, disease prevention and exercise. There were even games and a DJ. To sweeten the deal, children were able to select a free backpack on their way out of the event.
“It’s great,” said Hilda Guanoquiza as her daughter tried on a new backpack. “We live nearby. We heard the music and came over to investigate.”
Saturday’s event marked the 11th year that Rush and The Salvation Army have held the health fair, said Sharon Gates, Senior Director of Community Engagement at Rush Health Care. “We have very dedicated students, and we want to reach out to as many people as we can.”
The annual health fair, Gates says, is just one piece of Rush’s overall community outreach program. The University also maintains a clinic at the Salvation Army’s Freedom Center.
Longtime West Humboldt Park residents Michelle Towns and Ricky Allen have a soft spot in their hearts for youth.
“My goal was the opportunity for them to come and do something, have something to do,” Ricky said.
After realizing how little there was for neighborhood kids to do, Michelle and Ricky created a baseball team. The two taught local kids the fundamentals of the game and they were eager to learn according to Michelle.
“This is something they can be connected to.” – Ricky Allen
Michelle has been a true partner in helping The Salvation Army decide which programs to bring into the neighborhood with the new Freedom Center, according to Captain Nancy Powers.
“It’s a blessing from heaven, an angel from above that lead them to put it right here.” – Ricky Allen
“I was on my way to hell, and I was enjoying the ride…”
After a stint in prison, he wanted to better himself. Through Pathway Forward, a community-based program to help men and women leaving federal prison transition back into the community, The Salvation Army provided accountability, a warm bed, and a path toward education and employment.
Hill described Pathway Forward as “a security blanket” that helped him realize he wasn’t alone.
The Pathway Forward program is a community reintegration program for individuals who are returning to the community following incarceration. The program provides an invaluable service, not only to the individuals it serves, but also to our society by reducing crime, making our communities safer and preventing recidivism and repeat offenses.
With cheers and shouts of joy from hundreds of community residents, city representatives, donors and supporters, The Salvation Army recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Salvation Army Freedom Center in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood. Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., 27th Ward, joined Captains Merrill and Nancy Powers, Freedom Center directors and Metropolitan Division and Central Territory Salvation Army leadership to celebrate the opening of the state-of-the-art campus.
“I woke this morning and told my husband that next to our marriage, this may be the most exciting day of our lives,” said Captain Nancy Powers, co-administrator of the Freedom Center.
The massive 6-acre campus will house the Harbor Light Center substance rehabilitation program, the Pathway Forward community-based corrections program and a corps community center. The campus will also serve as the base for the Mobile Feeding and Outreach program. The Freedom Center will offer solutions to some of the biggest societal issues and challenges faced today by families, youth, our neighborhoods and our city – addiction, crime, homelessness and violence. At the ceremony, individuals who have benefited from these programs shared how The Salvation Army transformed their lives.
Alderman Burnett welcomed the Freedom Center to the neighborhood and said he would do whatever he could to help The Salvation Army. “This community has embraced The Salvation Army,” he said. “The Army came in and began working with the people immediately. They came in feeding people, talking to people on drugs and alcohol trying to encourage them to do something different, getting involved with the community. The Army really showed they wanted to be a part of the neighborhood.”
The Freedom Center has the potential to make a tremendous impact on the West Side of Chicago, as well as on the city as a whole, with a particular emphasis on addressing the serious issues of violence, crime reduction and unemployment. Helping to build a safer community will be a priority for The Freedom Center. The corps community center is expected to serve an estimated 22,500 people each year, including many young people.
“The Freedom Center, and particularly the new corps community center, presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of children and teens on the West Side who need a safe haven and positive alternatives to gangs and drugs,” said Lt. Colonel Charles H. Smith, Metropolitan Divisional Commander. “The corps community center will offer after school programs, summer camps, educational and recreational opportunities for young people. The Freedom Center will serve as a beacon of hope on the West Side, providing worship services, job training and access to a broad range of social services for families and local community residents.”
“This is such extraordinary work, that it speaks for itself,” said Vance Henry, from the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office. “Our neighborhoods need what you do. As long as the City of Chicago has partners like you, our city will move forward.”
After the ribbon cutting, guests were invited to tour the facility and enjoy a luncheon prepared by a chef whose life was transformed by the Army’s programs.