Chicago Fire Foundation to Help Celebrate Grand Opening of North Austin Center

February 2, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Chicago Fire FC News Release

CHICAGO - Chicago Fire FC and the Chicago Fire Foundation today joined By The Hand Club For Kids, Grace and Peace Revive Center, Intentional Sports, Jason and Vedrana Heyward and state and local leaders to celebrate the grand opening of the North Austin Center, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit campus for education, sports and wellness on Chicago's West Side.

Media assets from today's event including sound, b-roll and photos can be found here.

The opening of the North Austin Center marks a new era of opportunity for Chicago's West Side as the 10-acre campus will provide equitable access to education, sports, and holistic wellness services for members of the historically underserved community. The brand-new community center, situated at 1841 N. Laramie Ave., will serve tens of thousands of individuals annually and provide more than 100 hours for area youth and their families to participate in sports, classes, and other activities every week.

As a contributor to the $31 million project, the Fire Foundation will establish a permanent home for its proprietary P.L.A.Y.S. Program at the North Austin Center in addition to providing 20 hours of free sports programming at the community campus each week.

Established in 2013, P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) aims to enhance the academic performance and development of key social and emotional skills of elementary school students through a sports-based curriculum. To date, P.L.A.Y.S. has generated more than 250,000 hours of soccer across 50 Chicago Public Schools, serving 1,200 youth annually.

"The youth in every Chicago community deserve to have access to first-rate facilities and high-quality programming within their neighborhoods," said Jessica Yavitz, executive director of the Chicago Fire Foundation. "Investing in our youth through soccer not only teaches sporting skills, but also social and emotional learning traits and values. By teaming up with like-minded organizations on the development of the North Austin Center, we can provide a safe place for the community to come together, to play, learn and grow."

Anchored by three 501(c)(3) organizations, the North Austin Center features 150,000-square-feet of indoor space housing classrooms, an auditorium, two full-size basketball courts, and the Chicago Fire FC Field, making year-round competitive sports a reality for everyone. Running 110 yards long, the Chicago Fire FC Field is the region's largest indoor turf field and the city's only FIFA regulation turf field.

In addition to serving as the permanent home for the Chicago Fire Foundation's P.L.A.Y.S. Program, the center will be home to By The Hand Club for Kids, Grace and Peace Revive Center and Intentional Sports.

"When we set out on the journey to create a life-giving space for our North Austin youth, we challenged ourselves to 'imagine more,'" said Donnita Travis, founder and executive director of By The Hand Club For Kids and one of the lead organizers for the North Austin campus. "Yes, this is about high-quality education and faith-growing opportunities for students. Yes, this is about exceptional and accessible organized sports for our local youth. Yes, this is about helping families and seniors access the supportive services they need. It is all these things and so much more! We have only begun to realize the gifts that God has in store for our community through this campus, and we are humbled to be stewards of these gifts to ensure they help our kids and our community thrive for generations to come."

The North Austin Center was developed in partnership with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and built by ARCO/Murray and GMA Construction Group. In addition to substantial financial support from the anchor nonprofit organizations and their supporters, the North Austin Center was made possible through $3.5 million in capital grants from the State of Illinois. The campus is expected to sustain more than 100 permanent full-time and part-time jobs on Chicago's West Side.

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