By J’nelle Agee
Many neglected and abused children entering foster care end up being separated from their siblings, sometimes for years, sometimes permanently. An international nonprofit is trying to reduce that secondary strain for children in Chicago.
On Tuesday, SOS Children’s Village, a nonprofit organization in Austria, broke ground for a new type of foster home in Little Italy. SOS’s goal is to create a village that will keep siblings together while they are being cared for by full-time, professionally trained foster parents.
The Roosevelt Square Village on West Washburne Avenue is a collection of 14 individual homes that will house up to 84 foster children, whose ages will range from birth to 21 years of age.
“We are celebrating the establishment of a community that is completely dedicated to helping children in need heal, grow and thrive as young people,” said Tim McCormick, CEO of SOS Children’s Village Illinois. “We have learned that when children are raised in a supportive village and live together as brothers and sisters they develop a true sense of community,”
The West Side village is the second to be built in Chicago and the third in Illinois. The first was constructed in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side.
Each home in the newly constructed village is built to accommodate six children. The village’s services include individual and group counseling as well as mentoring. The community also provides educational and cultural enrichment for foster parents and children. The children will move in next week.
Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward is a big fan of the project: “The city gets involved with some great projects, very worthwhile projects that do a lot of good for our communities, but every once in a while you come across a project that is absolutely exceptional.”
Foster parents must pass a criminal background check, be financially stable and complete mandatory health screenings. They will live in the homes with the children and receive training in how to be successful foster parents.
The city of Chicago contributed $1.9 million towards the development, which is located on land donated by the Chicago Housing Authority. WinTrust Financial Corp. contributed funds for the project as well.
“The mission of CHA is to make sure we built safe, decent and affordable housing. However, we are also committed to making sure that we build strong and vibrant communities,” said Michael Merchant, CEO of the CHA.
The new housing development will create 55 full and part-time positions, which will include foster parents, part-time relief parents, case managers, case-aid positions and support staff.
“I don’t know what signifies a strong and vibrant community more than a project like this that’s going to provide employment, education training, youth services, self-sufficiency programs, family and support services and primarily focusing on children,” he said.
SOS Children’s Village is developing plans to add a community center to the Roosevelt Square project. The center would provide a place for children to take part in recreational and educational activities.