North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) – a community-based organization that provides job training, financial coaching and safety-net support services for employment and retention – will open a new multi-use facility on Chicago’s West Side with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 26. NLEN’s $6.9 million, 20,000 square-foot headquarters at 1111 S. Homan Ave. will be a community touchstone, expanding its critical work with a new Wintrust Bank branch, community center, service center and rooftop apiary for the onsite beelove Café, as well as a production center for Sweet Beginnings, LLC, NLEN’s social enterprise that specializes in producing raw urban honey and honey- infused skincare products under the beelove brand.
NLEN’s former five locations will be centralized at the site, better coordinating services to a growing list of clients. A recent $2.5 million city Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant also has enabled NLEN to expand its programs and capacity to serve up to 5,000 West Side job seekers . Attendees includee Congressman Danny Davis (Illinois 7th District), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman Michael Scott, Jr. (24th Ward), Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd District), Wintrust Bank President Doug Boersma.
Other open house activities will include tours of the campus – which was the site of the original community bank of Lawndale – in addition to honey extract demonstrations, the chance to meet some of the beelove Café vendors, children’s activities led by Lincoln Park Zoo volunteers, program orientations by NLEN staff, and food and refreshments prepared by local talented entrepreneurs of color. A key part of the event will be the dedication of the Michael Scott Sr. Event Center, named after the late Chicago School Board president, civic leader and longtime North Lawndale resident. Members of his family, including Alderman Michael Scott, Jr., will be present.
The North Lawndale Employment Network serves under- and unemployed residents of the North Lawndale neighborhood and surrounding communities in an area where 45% of households live below the federal poverty level and 57% of adults have a history with the criminal justice system. NLEN serves anyone seeking to secure a good job and works with background-friendly employers. Participants develop the skills and behaviors that will improve their ability to successfully navigate the job market, secure sustained employment, close educational gaps and improve household economic conditions. Fewer than 8% of NLEN clients who served time return to prison – compared to 55% of returning citizens across Illinois – and 70% of NLEN’s workforce graduates retain jobs for the long term, strengthening their families and communities.
“At North Lawndale Employment Network, we believe in providing people a beautiful place to gain competitive skills that will lead to family-supporting wages,” said Brenda Palms Barber, president and CEO of NLEN and chief executive officer of Sweet Beginnings LLC. “It’s also a place where you can meet up with friends over a great cup of coffee or a beelove honey latte, or just plug in your laptop and access our free WIFI while working on your next novel or opening a new checking or savings account at Wintrust Bank – North Lawndale.”
The North Lawndale branch of Wintrust Bank opened at the new NLEN campus in March 2021. Before Wintrust opened, North Lawndale had only one bank: the PNC bank on West Roosevelt Road. The North Lawndale Wintrust branch was once the location of Liberty Bank, the last Black-owned bank on the West Side, which closed in 2018.
“Our vision today is the same as 30 years ago — and that is to be a community bank, serving families and neighborhoods and to help grow local economies,” said Wintrust’s Anthony Scott. “We are proud to be part of this endeavor with North Lawndale Employment Network, bringing local banking to a community that has long been without financial capabilities to offer its citizens. We hope that our institution will be a fortifying presence for years to come impacting jobs creation, housing and personal finances.”