Coca Cola believes that “local parks and recreation centers are the gateways to healthy, prosperous and connected communities.” It is not just something the company proclaims, but takes action as evidenced by the generous investment of money and people it has made with the new Teen Center at Chicago’s Carver Park. The investment was made in order to upgrade and improve the lives of young people in that community. Coca Cola has made many other inner city investments in the past: Miami’s Shenandoah Park, Newark’s Waterfront Recreation Facility, San Antonio’s Labor Street Park and L.A.’s Gilbert W. Lindsay Recreation Center. Coca Cola works in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
Part of the mission at the NRPA is to ensure all people can experience the benefits provided by parks and recreation. The reality is, not every community has equal access to quality parks or recreation programs, but they are working to change that. with partnerships with corporations like Coca Cola and local leaders.
Last Saturday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Alderman Anthony Beale, State Senator Napoleon Harris, State Representative Thaddeus Jones and Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael P. Kelly were joined by community members to celebrate the official grand opening of Carver Park Teen Center, a facility that will provide programming to teens and their families throughout the southeast side of Chicago. The free celebration also featured health screenings, a social services agency fair, healthy cooking classes, fitness challenges, interactive games, music and dancing.
“The Carver Park Teen Center is an important development that is part of an overall revitalization for this community,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The improvements in Carver Park will give local teens – especially teen girls – the opportunity to access critical programming that will inspire lifelong healthy habits and self-confidence.”
The Teen Center is in the former site of Carver’s Community Building and has been converted into a large clubroom with attached office and storage space. Totaling 1,900 square feet, the Teen Center will accommodate an open space for dance. The dance studio has a resilient floor, new lighting, new finishes, ballet bars, mirrors and flexible seating for viewing. The lounge features a nutrition center that includes a work space, lounge seating and a kitchen counter. Outside the dance studio, an exterior space of 1,600 square feet was converted into the most challenging fitness center in the Park District that includes a rock climbing wall.
“Empowering our young women is the smartest investment a community can make,” said Congresswoman Kelly. “The healthy, structured activities that will be offered here will have a positive impact on the physical, emotional and social development of the young girls and women who live in Altgeld and neighboring communities. Our young ladies will learn to make choices that will help them identify and fulfill their purpose in life.”
“It is important that our teens have positive opportunities available to them within their communities to help them stay active and engaged,” said State Representative Jones. “This Teen Center will be a wonderful addition to Carver Park and will benefit countless teenagers and their families.”
The Center’s programming will provide opportunities for teens to participate in activities that enhance physical wellness, teach stress reduction, promote lifelong healthy habits and improve self-confidence. The center’s programs will have a special emphasis for teen girls, but will also serve as a community hub that builds sustainable bonds between local families and other community organizations.
“The Carver Park Teen Center is a powerful and natural extension of our strong partnership with the Chicago Park District’s Park Family Wellness and Troops for Fitness initiatives that have already succeeded in improving the wellness of tens of thousands of Chicago residents throughout the Chicago Park District,” said Luke Emery, General Manager of Great Lakes Coca-Cola Distribution. “It is so important that every community can come together and be inspired through access to these important wellness programs.”
One of the beneficiaries of the project is Tahjai Carter, a junior at Carver Park Military HS and an Altgeld Garden resident. Tahjai introduced Mayor Emanuel at the ceremony and talked about the importance of the Teen Center.
The Teen Center is part of a series of developments the city has made to help revitalize communities on the southeast side of the city. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) is currently in the process of making several critical investments impacting the Altgeld Gardens community in particular, including the rehabilitation of more than 200 housing units, engaging new property management and opening a new social service office. In addition to the Teen Center, improvements are being made to the Carver Park Field House and surrounding open spaces, including its early learning facilities, library, sidewalks and roadways. The mission of these investments is to enhance existing services and programs, including a 2.5 acre urban farm, community safety programming, and the Jobs Plus program made possible by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Housing Authority is pleased to partner with the Chicago Park District and Coca-Cola as CHA continues to work to build healthy, vibrant communities throughout Chicago,” said Eugene Jones Jr., Acting CEO of CHA. “Altgeld Gardens has always been one of CHA’s key developments, and it is paramount that the agency provide programming for children in the community that is educational, healthy and fun, so that families can thrive along their road toward self-sufficiency.”
The total project, which cost nearly $340,000, was funded by Coca-Cola and Chicago Park District. Programming at the center is made possible by a partnership between the National Recreation and Park Association and Coca-Cola.