Evanston Opens New Inclusive Community Center

Evanston Opens New Inclusive Community Center

Lindsey White’s eyes lit up as she recalled her recent visit to the South End Community Center open house in Evanston. A stay-at-home mom of three, she said she explored every corner of the newly unveiled space, dreaming up countless possibilities for her children.

“It was really great,” White said. “I thought it would be a great source of revenue for the city, and I was curious to see what kind of programming they would have.”

Her excitement was palpable, but she said what really touched her was the sensory room: a sanctuary designed for children like her neurodiverse son.

“He loved it there,” White said with a smile. “We spent a whole hour just exploring and relaxing. It was such a relief to see him comfortable and engaged.”

For White and many others, these inclusive spaces were not just amenities, but a source of understanding and support.

In January, the city of Evanston purchased the building at the corner of Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street in the 9th Ward that was formerly home to Little Beans Cafe, a popular family café and children’s activity center.

Now, just over five months later, the South End Community Center is gearing up to open its doors to the public for the first time in mid-July. The center welcomes everyone, but will place a particular emphasis on creating accessible spaces and serving communities with disabilities.

“We want all of our buildings to be accessible,” said Lauren Ruiz, manager of the City of Evanston’s Inclusion and Accessibility Department. “I think the timing of when the building became available for purchase was perfect for our needs.”

The facility has undergone significant upgrades, including a freshly painted interior, new fitness equipment and soon-to-be-launched gymnastics programs. These improvements are a direct result of community feedback, gathered via QR codes and suggestion forms during the open house.

Through QR code surveys, the community has identified the importance of a sliding scale payment system. Many residents said they enjoyed visiting Little Beans Cafe, but found it difficult to afford, especially those with larger families. The city plans to implement a new system, offering a 75 percent discount for children receiving free school meals and a 50 percent discount for those receiving reduced lunch.

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout and community involvement at the open house. He estimated that about 870 attendees participated and provided valuable feedback.

“I initially planned to stay for one or two hours, and apart from sneaking into a meeting in the afternoon, I was there all day,” he said.

Looking ahead, the center plans to introduce additional amenities, such as a drive-thru café, karate classes, pickleball courts and a space dedicated to ecological education. City officials hope the center will serve as a vital community hub, hosting neighborhood meetings and offering early childhood education programs starting as early as August or September.

Michael Schram said he is excited about the transformation of a familiar corner in southwest Evanston into a community center. As a resident of the city for 53 years, Schram has seen the location go from a grocery store to an Osco drugstore and, most recently, to Little Beans Cafe. He said he looks forward to the location continuing to serve the community in its new role.

Schram says he attended nearby Dawes Elementary School in the mid-1950s and early 1960s.

“It’s just exciting to see the youth in this community, especially in the 9th Ward, coming together now in the same way that they did then,” he said.

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