Pastor Robbie Wilkerson helped transform "the Old Y" into a Community destination. (BOB MEAD/Contributing Reporter)

Most people still call it “the Old Y.”

Pastor Robbie Wilkerson gently corrects them. “Actually now it’s the Austin Community Resource Center” (ACRC). Since taking on the role of executive director of the ACRC, Wilkerson has worked diligently to bring resources and organizations together at the ACRC that will truly make it an amazing resource for the Austin neighborhood.

As you go in through the entrance on Race Avenue you encounter a lot of activity. Two beautiful murals depict the Austin community. Children, youth and adults are involved in numerous activities. You can tell they feel safe and at home here.

The ACRC truly has become a safe haven and center for community enhancement and enrichment. This summer 80 high school youth are involved in a variety of internships and programs. Twenty are children’s camp leaders, 30 are involved with African Drumming, 15 are active in a theater program and 15 are involved in Rights to Power, a youth advocacy training program. There are 50 Kindergarten through 8th grade children involved in a summer day camp.

A diverse collection of service organizations call the ACRC home. They include the New Birth Christian Center, a number of After School Matters programs, the Substance Abuse Prevention/Detention Reduction Program (juvenile focus), the veterans’ program DryHootch, Youth Outreach Services juvenile re-entry program, and the Illinois Association of Extended Care which assists organizations with licensing of recovery homes.

While the ACRC mission statement is still being refined, the purpose of ACRC is to inspire and empower Austin residents of all ages to realize their strengths, possibilities, and rites of passage through exercising their full potential. Wilkerson says he wants the ACRC to be known as a safe haven for youth, a location for seniors and veterans to connect and receive services, and a recreation facility with gyms, fitness, and dance.

The vision of the leadership team is to be the community leader recognized for helping men, women, and youth improve the quality of their life, family, and community.

When the Chicago leadership of the YMCA was exploring closing the facility at Central and Race avenues, they contacted SRHAC (Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation) to take over the management of the housing portion of the facility. Ald. Emma Mitts was present at one of those meetings and when the topic of what to do with the rest of the building came up she called Wilkerson of the New Birth Christian Center to be involved in the conversation.

Wilkerson pulled together a network of the Austin Coalition for Youth Justice, the Leaders’ Network (a network of about 30 West Side ministers), and the Westside Black Elected Officials to begin putting together an effort to transform the under-used facility into a centrally located facility that can be accessed for health and wellness, youth programs, senior services, and re-entry services.

Wilkerson says his concept in restoring so many services to the Resource Center are to attempt to get back to the basics of what the YMCA originally intended; creating a young person’s Christian association. While most of the organizations located at the ACRC are not faith-based, the flavor of what is being offered meets the needs of the Austin community in a holistic manner.

The facility and programs are definitely accessible. All programs are free for youth. For adults a donation of $10 per month is requested. This is amazing for the variety of programs and activities available.

While the ACRC is up and running full speed ahead there is still room for growth and improvement. There is a full size swimming pool that exists but needs updating before it can be used. There is a major effort to pursue funding to make the needed updates to the pool and other areas of the facility, which State Rep. LaShawn Ford is helping push.

The Austin Community Resource Center is definitely emerging as a real treasure for Austin, a true resource for our community’s positive transformation.

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