By Lacey Sikora
Less than a year after breaking ground in April 2018, the Oak Park location for local non-profit New Moms is complete.
On time and on budget are not usually phrases that come to mind when talking about large-scale construction projects, but New Moms President and CEO Laura Zumdahl says this project was remarkable from start to finish.
She credits a hardworking team who worked well together to provide a home for 18 families, as well as office space for support services for New Moms programming.
Zumdahl acknowledges that getting to the ground-breaking last spring took almost a year of preparation from coming up with to finding the site and funding, and says New Moms began that process in early 2017.
"We wanted to expand our housing component from what we offered at our Chicago location," Zumdahl said. "The need in the community is huge."
New Moms was founded in 1983 and is dedicated to supporting life transformation for young mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness. New Moms works with young mothers to find a path to employment and to provide the tools young mothers need to learn and develop strong parenting skills, helping to break the poverty cycle for two generations.
The Chicago-based location of New Moms, which opened in 2013, provides 40 units of housing for up to 40 moms and up to 50 children at a time. Called the Transformation Center, it provides a two-year transitional housing program for homeless adolescent mothers ages 18 to 24.
The Oak Park location, at 206 Chicago Ave., while smaller with 18 apartments, will offer permanent supportive housing; there is no time limit on the amount of time residents can stay.
The four-story building has six apartments on each of the three top floors. Units range from one to two bedrooms, and come furnished as the majority of residents come to New Moms experiencing homelessness. From a table and chairs in the eating area to beds and cribs, the apartments are set up to create a warm feeling of home.
"When people think about affordable housing, they don't thing about quality," Zumdahl said. "The finishes should be nice and should last and be durable. We believe in housing with dignity. Everyone deserves that. The aim was to not look institutional. It really looks like a home."
While the aim of the project was to add much needed housing stock for the population of young moms in need, Zumdahl says an added bonus was the ability to add more office space. Since acquiring Oak Park-based parent support organization Parenthesis in 2016, New Moms quickly outgrew the office space and meeting space available in Oak Park.
"The staff serves Chicago and eight communities in the near west suburbs. The suburban team was growing and we needed more space," Zumdahl said.
She said that donations helped make the office and support space a reality. Now, the first floor opens with a welcoming lobby that includes space to display wares from Bright Endeavors, the social enterprise candle company that provides job training skills to young mothers.
There is a multi-purpose meeting room for support groups, parenting education workshops and morning meetups. Zumdahl states that two of New Moms' substantial programs, the doula program and the parental home visit program, can also utilize the site as needed.
A bright and colorful playroom houses childcare for workshops and support groups. In April, a playground will be installed in the backyard.
While providing housing was key, Zumdahl says that many other young mothers will receive support in the new facility.
"Certainly not all the families we work with live in our buildings," she said.
New Moms worked with McBride Kelley Baurer Architects to design the building and with McShane Construction Company as general contractors. Local design duo, Kim Daunis and Natalie Papier of Home Ec, consulted on the design choices.
"We ended up with an all-female team from architect to project manager for the construction company," Zumdahl said. "We're a female-led organization. It was pretty powerful to have an organization aimed at helping women guided by the skills of these wonderful women."
New Moms Oak Park was made possible with donations and partnerships with the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, the James P. and Brenda S. Grusecki Family Foundation and many others who donated to ensure that more families could find housing and access to high quality family support services.
The organization held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, March 15 and will hold a community open house on Saturday, April 6. Zumdahl expects to welcome the first residents later this spring.
"We are anxious to get those families moving in," Zumdahl said. "We're excited to bring life to this stretch of Chicago Avenue."
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