The North Lawndale Employment Network, a nonprofit that helps people facing barriers to employment find and keep jobs, is moving all of its programming and operations to the former Liberty Bank building at 1111 S. Homan Ave.  

Lauren Wesley, the nonprofit’s director of development, said that the building will feature a coffee shop, an event space, administrative offices, classrooms, program training rooms and a walled peace garden. 

The coffee shop, called Worker Bee Cafe, will employ the organization’s clients and serve food prepared by Inspiration Kitchens, an East Garfield Park culinary jobs training program, and sell coffee produced by Andersonville-based Metropolis Coffee. Wesley said that the space will allow residents the opportunity to relax and chat. 

Wesley said that the community space will be named after Michael Scott Sr., the late father of Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th). 

“Our resource room will be open to anyone in the community, so if you want to print something out, fill out a job application or use the computer, you can use our resource room,” Wesley said.

Wintrust Bank also opened a branch in a leased space in the northern portion of the building, which would be an asset for a community that doesn’t have many bank branches at all. According to a press release, the Employment Network opened more than 100 bank accounts for its clients. 

The Employment Network purchased the building last spring and they currently plan to open it by next May. To help fund the purchase and renovation of the building, the Employment Network raised around $5.5 million.  

IFF, a Chicago-based nonprofit financial lender, helped the Employment Network in several ways. According to its press release, it provided a $1.2 million loan to help the organization purchase the Liberty Bank building and a $5 million loan to help cover the renovation costs. IFF also provided real estate consulting and construction oversight.  

In a statement, Gordon Hellwig, IFF’s managing director of Lending for Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana, expressed his organization’s support for the project and for Brenda Palms-Barber, the Employment Network’s executive director.  

“It’s a privilege to be part of the tremendous synergy that Brenda creates with partners, funders, staff and clients, the North Lawndale community, and city representatives,” Hellwig stated. 

On Sept. 26, Scott held a community meeting at the Douglas Park Field House, 1401 S. Sacramento Dr., to inform residents about the Employment Network’s plans.  

Austin Weekly News previously reported that the building has hosted a bank since the 1970s. The New Orleans-based Liberty Bank acquired it in 2013 and closed the branch in September 2018. It was the last black-owned bank on the city’s West Side.  

Wesley explained that the Employment Network has five locations, which has made it harder for the staff to coordinate and for its clients to take advantage of programs.  

In the meantime, the nonprofit is trying to raise another $4.5 million for the “reserves and innovation fund.” So far, the nonprofit has raised around $3 million in commitments from private corporations and foundations, but they are still waiting to actually receive those funds.  


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...