"Beautiful," "gorgeous," "elegant" were the words heard April 12 as the New Evangelical Bible Church, along with Phalanx Services, celebrated their grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4628 W. Washington Blvd. The multi-purpose complex offers a variety of services, including skill assessment and vocational training, to the West Side community. It also promises to bring 300-400 new jobs.
Pastor and founder Rev. Willie J. Sams had a vision back in 1968 that would impact the West Austin community. He purchased property with the hope of adding infrastructure that would revitalize the community, add economic growth and bring programs to assist and aid youth. Although the community was scarred and lost property after the riots resulting from Dr. King's assassination, Pastor Sams held onto the hope of keeping Dr. King's dream alive and embarked on building a complex that would focus on economic and people empowerment.
"We also have a updated banquet hall for weddings, receptions, awards dinners and any other kind of event that can be in our community," Sams said. "We don't have to go outside. We can stay right here. Instead of organizations going downtown or far south, they came come here and get the same service."
The architect, Ron Garner, said the project took about four years to complete. "We had to secure the funding, we had to get the zoning squared away so that we could build the center. It was [Sams'] vision, and I was just proud to be the architect to help complete this vision. It is an awesome undertaking, a project like this, and it is a project that is needed on the West Side-a community and family life center."
One of the hosts, Evelyn Ross, said, "We are equipped with a banquet facility to accommodate 250 people for fine dining. Phalanx Services are also housed here, which is a social service facility. They do skill training-culinary, basic skills training, job readiness, as well as service for ex-offenders."
Minister Frank Dixon Jr. said, "This venture we put together is much needed on the West Side. We went out to celebrate my mother's 50th wedding anniversary. We had to go all the way out to Schaumburg, and we paid big money. To have something like this in this community is outstanding. Basically we are doing this to serve the community. With The Phalanx center here, we can help ex-offenders who have records. You can go to prison while you're young, but when they come out, no one will hire them. We also can help people who are on assistance, we help with babysitting, transportation to get to a job until they get on their feet."
CEO & president of Phalanx Family Services, Tina Sanders, showed the spacious facility on the second floor. "We have 17 people who work out of this office," she said. This is one of two offices we have. There is one on the South Side [103rd & Halsted]. We provide formal training programs for people who are on public aid, people who are looking to go back to work, people looking for first jobs, and we also work with ex-offenders. We service people 18 and up, and we're open Monday thru Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Our purpose here is to make sure people are able to go to work, and make sure they have the skills that they need to do the job. We service about 600 people a month, and we have contracts with the Illinois Dept. of Human Services and the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development. We are also a certified nurse assistant training provider, so we can train people to be certified nurse assistants," she said.
Alderman Ed Smith, whose district the complex is located in, said, "We don't have to go downtown anymore, spending a lot of money. We can spend it right here and continue to aid the community."
Also present and participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th Dist.) and State Rep. Cynthia Soto (4th Dist). The program included remarks by John Kretchmer, senior v.p., Business Banking, Harris Bank; Robert G. Peterson, attorney at law; Dorothy Brown, Cook County clerk; Caryn Arriaga, interior designer; G.L. Tyus, insurance agent, and Pastor Johnny Miller. Special acknowledgement to Veronica Gray, media representative.