A local non-profit group wants to build a $1.8 million youth center at Madison Street and Lavergne Avenue.
The Peace Corner Inc. bought the land at 5022 W. Madison St. from the city for $1. The group plans to build a 7,900- square-foot facility with computer labs, classrooms and a gym next to its current location at 5014 W. Madison St. The center will be open to all community residents and provide a safe place, free from gangs and violence, organizers say.
The Zoning Board of Appeals gave the project its final approval, and earlier this month, BidClerk announced the project will begin construction within the next 90 days.
Peace Corner was founded by Father John Maurizio, a Catholic missionary, eight years ago. An Austin resident, Maurizio says he hopes the new facility helps create peace in his West Side neighborhood.
Father Maurizio says the existing center has been involved in gang mediation and succeeded in persuading some gang members to give up the street life. The facility serves about 50 to 70 youths a day on average, with about 20 receiving legal counseling from volunteer attorneys and about 12 taking GED courses.
“There’s nothing like creating change in the neighborhoods that need it the most, and I am just glad to be a part of it. We are very blessed to expand into a larger facility,” said Father Maurizio.
The new center will help keep kids safe by providing after-school programs, as well as job training, and GED and computer classes, said Mike Johnson, an assistant to Ald. Ed Smith (28).
“The youth center will be a great addition in Austin and contribute a lot to our community by providing jobs, affordable housing, better chances for investment in property and a wider range of services for the residents,” said Johnson.
Some nearby residents say they’re happy about the Peace Corner Center expanding.
“I have been hearing about this idea for a long time, but I never thought it would actually succeed,” said Dorothy Hall. “I have three grandsons that have all witnessed troubled life in Austin, and as soon as this building is built, I want them to be a part of it, just as much as they are now.”
Hall said her grandsons, who are 15, 22 and 29, have gone through a lot of challenges in life and want guidance and protection, which the youth center could provide.
“The Peace Corner is known to change kid’s lives and keep them off the streets, which is needed in Austin.”
Kathy Davis, a 32-year resident of Austin, said, “I am beginning to feel proud to live in the Austin community, as long as I keep seeing changes like this.”
Maurizio said the center has received strong support from America’s Best Companies, which will be helping fund the expansion. The old facility will continue to operate.
“Our new facility will provide additional space for more services and now our mission for the Youth Center is to focus on the youth, to keep them safe and out the streets,” said Maurizio.