GREATER GRAND CROSSING – A nearly 100-year-old church that sat vacant for years is reopening as a community center for young adults affected by homelessness and housing instability.
The Lyte Collective, a group that supports young adults affected by poverty and homelessness, will open the Lyte Lounge, a $1.8 million youth center for young adults, this summer.
Group members overhauled the interior of the former Black Methodist for Church Renewal at 549 E. 76th St., demolishing walls and renovating ceilings and floors in the 11,000-square-foot church to bring their vision to life.
The center will offer young people between the ages of 16 and 30 a well-equipped kitchen, fully equipped showers, overnight and long-term camps, a clinic and a laundry room, among other things. A music studio, art space, gym, and yoga room—called the Nest—offer youngsters a place to unwind and express themselves artistically.
The goal is to create a “safe space for young people to hang out,” said Executive Director Casey Holtschneider.
“We wanted to go back to that traditional community center vibe,” Holtschneider said. “You can come here and play basketball and do yoga, but while you’re here you can eat, make a sandwich, shower and you don’t have to tell anyone about it. We are here to help young people whatever they need, wherever they are, for as long as they want.”
“Here is History”
The small team behind Lyte Collective has been working on its cars since 2015, meeting youth wherever they are, Chief Innovation Officer Carl Wiley said.
Whether it was McDonald’s or Starbucks, the team showed up to help find housing and jobs, or to offer therapy and parenting support.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), to whose congregation the former church belongs, was the first to tell the collective about the building, Holtschneider said. Built in 1926, the church stood empty for years in the late 2000s. Sawyer told them to “check the room,” she said.
As organizers entered the church, they began hugging, Holtschneider said. It’s “beautiful,” she said. They had finally found a home.
The Lyte Collective bought the church in 2017 for just over $100,000, Holtschneider said. Construction began in 2019. The Bowa Group, a black-owned company, and DAAM, LLC handled the renovations.
The collective was hoping to open in 2020, but the pandemic thwarted their plans, Holtschneider said. Still, neighbors who saw the building being revitalized stopped by and spoke about how they used to play basketball at the church’s gym or spend days at daycare, she said.
“The space meant a lot to people, and they didn’t want to come out here and see it being torn down,” Holtschneider said. “There is history here.”
Along the way, the collective met their “secret angel,” Holtschneider said. They would visit the lounge and find that the grass had been mowed or the snow shoveled, Wiley said.
Jerome Davis, who lives across the street, took over the duties, Wiley said.
The collective brought him into the team in 2017, said Holtschneider. Davis came out of retirement to be the lead civil engineer, she said.
“You can’t think of anything better than moving across the street from an amazing human being who knows everything you don’t,” Holtschneider said.
The Lyte Lounge will be the collective’s first in-house operations center.
The group will continue to offer mobile support because “the South Side suits some youth, but not all,” Wiley said. But having a central location is exciting, he said.
“We’re flipping our dynamic on its head,” Wiley said. “We’re excited to open the doors and have everything here now.”
The Lyte collective mentored about 150 young people in 2021, Holtschneider said. It has already surpassed that number this year and expects to double the number of people it helps once the center opens, she said.
“The hardest thing is feeling alone in this world,” Holtschneider said. “My biggest dream is for you to walk in and feel like your people are here, and you have a place where you feel like you belong — where you can breathe and just be.”
The lounge will have a long list of amenities, including a computer room and a children’s playroom. A full-service kitchen doubles as a community center where teens can meet and eat, and a cafe where teens can serve coffee and light bites for work.
“We provide a safe environment to learn these skills,” Wiley said. “Sometimes young people get their first jobs and it’s like jumping in at the deep end. You can make mistakes here.”
An art studio “made to get messy” is stocked with easels and paintbrushes, and the nest has huge beanbag chairs.
One of the highlights of the lounge will be a music studio.
The rounded studio has guitars lining the walls, a recording booth, and a grand piano that dates back to 1933. Computers are outfitted with personal audio workstations so the youth can “get their feet wet recording.”
Wiley, a lifelong musician, will run the studio and teach.
Art is “a cathartic thing for youth,” Wiley said. The music studio is one of many rooms in the lounge that will hopefully offer relief from the world’s many stressors, he said.
“A lot of young people who are going through some really difficult things and might not feel comfortable talking to someone in a therapy session, or want to express themselves on top of therapy and get rid of some things,” Wiley said.
“This is this room. You come in, grab something off the wall and play it.”
The collective hopes to open the Lyte Lounge in a matter of weeks, Holtschneider said. The members are waiting for an occupancy certificate from the city. Entry will be by appointment only for the first few months while organizers “figure out a schedule,” Holtschneider said.
As they expand, group members hope to raise more money to provide adequate services for youth, Holtschneider said. They took out a $400,000 loan to complete the lounge, and it will cost about $800,000 a year to operate, Holtschneider said.
Despite the hurdles it took to get here, there is only hope.
The collective “removes stigma” in the service sector by helping people of different ages “get the support they need,” Holtschneider said.
“When people need help, they need it immediately. They need people in their lives,” Holtschneider said. “Our goal is housing instability and homelessness, but we’re expanding admission to all young people because we want them to always be here, so they’re connected, even if they’re not in a crisis.”
You can donate here to support the Lyte Collective.
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