Lurie Children’s Hospital is planning on building a new community health center on Chicago Avenue as part of an ongoing collaboration focused on youth health. On April 12, the renowned children’s hospital along with community partner Stone Development Corporation will host a community conversation at Stone Lively Church to present the idea to residents and listen to their needs.

“This is the first time that we’ve really brought everyone together not only to introduce the idea, but to introduce the team of people working on this, both from Austin and Lurie Children’s,” said Aisha Oliver, community engagement specialist for Lurie Children’s Hospital. 

Oliver, a community organizer, has worked with Lurie Children’s for the last two years, convening with residents to tackle issues affecting Austin children and youth. 

The hospital noticed that since 2016 teenagers and younger children made up almost 15% of the number of victims affected by violence in Chicago. 

From 2016 to 2018, the hospital recorded over 7,000 emergency room visits for violence-related injuries, the majority of them affecting Black and Latinx youth, according to data by the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities, Lurie’s center for community health. 

Since then, the hospital has strengthened its community partnerships with Austin and Belmont-Cragin residents to bring neighborhood-based violence prevention and health initiatives, mostly for the benefit of local youth. 

Oliver said during the pandemic she noticed an increasing need for mental and behavioral health services, especially for kids and teenagers she works with. The proposed health center could work as a joint clinic and community center, simultaneously offering clinical and mental health services and community services. 

For several years Oliver has organized and hosted programs for Austin youth. She has worked for Lurie Children’s to center Austin residents from the start of the project, understanding their needs rather than bringing preconceived projects without considering residents’ real needs. 

“A lot of times we get left out of the process, so it was always my passion and purpose to make sure that Austin residents specifically, and not just organizations, were the ones making decisions and being made aware of what’s happening,” she said. 

In partnership with Stone Lively Church, Lurie Children’s team has visited Austin to learn more about residents’ needs, organized health service days bringing doctors to the community, and held several community events. 

The exact location for the proposed center on Chicago Avenue is yet to be determined, Oliver said. At the community conversation, residents will hear from the partners in this project and be asked to share their feedback, with the hopes of setting an example of true community partnership. 

“In any community, especially a community of color there should be a truly collaborative effort at a partnership versus someone coming in and saying, ‘here’s what we wanna do and we want to get your feedback on something that’s already kind of been put in place,’” Oliver said. “That’s not how we’re doing it.” 

Community meeting will take place on April 12 at Stone Lively Church. | Provided