Jametria T., 15, sported a smile after delivering a speech to local elected officials, top Chicago law enforcement officials and philanthropists who gathered Friday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new Boys & Girls Club campus on the West Side.

The three-story, 27,000-square-foot facility located at 4411 W. Chicago Ave. is “a safe place to be,” Jametria T. Said. It serves West Side children and youth from Austin, Garfield Park, West Humboldt Park and nearby communities with after-school and summer programs spanning sports, arts, technology and academics.

“We need it. To be honest, we really need it because there’s a lot going in our communities, violence, gangs… you know? We need this place,” Jametria said.

“Our mission is about providing safety, joy, hope, education and opportunity,” Bartlett J. McCartin, Boys & Girls Club chairman emeritus, said.

The $15-million club sits on a campus that also houses Chicago’s new Joint Public Safety Training Academy, a facility that will serve as a training center for Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

“This is what Chicago is made for… coming together,” Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said to more than 100 attendees, adding this shared facility allows children and youth to “see and know what law enforcement is all about.”

In the crowd sat Rep. Danny Davis (7th), Chicago Police interim superintendent Fred Waller, soon-to-be superintendent Larry Snelling, Chicago deputy chief Sean R. Loughran, who sits on the nonprofit’s board, and top Chicago fire and police officials. In her speech, Mitts also acknowledged former mayor Lori Lightfoot for believing in this vision and thanked Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson “for carrying the torch.”

The Rusu-McCartin Boys & Girls Club, named after its donors, offers state-of-the-art facilities where youth aged five to 18 can participate in activities, make friends and learn new skills. The new building includes a game room, recording studio, commercial teaching kitchen, common areas, office spaces, a technology center, makers space, art room, learning center, teen center, outdoor play area, rooftop space and an NBA-sized basketball court.

The teen center and tech programs are West Side teenager Michael R’s favorites, admitting he likes the teen center “because they keep the kids out,” allowing him to hang out with his friends. For the last six weeks, the club has operated offering summer programs and a “safe place” to dozens of teenagers like Michael R. Starting Aug. 21, the club will begin offering after-school programs with activities like digital arts, sports leagues, robotics, civic engagement and more.

“The West Side community is a great, great community,” business executive and philanthropist George Rusu said of the campus named after his family and Bart McCartin’s family, who were major donors for this club. The club was developed with input from local civic leaders, elected officials, and mostly local youth who guided the programming, design and physical layout, Boys & Girls Club leaders said.

In the building process, youth and law enforcement officers participated in joint activities to develop relationships and build trust between youth and police.

“Everyone says they’re afraid of police officers because of what happens in our communities and people with my skin color…” Jametria T. told this publication. “And you know? Being with them, it was actually kind of warm and it was actually kind of deep.”

Kids from the Boys & Girls Club youth council walked holding arms with law enforcement on West Garfield Park, Austin and West Humboldt Park to photograph what they find beautiful, Michael Crowley, Boys & Girls Club president and CEO said. The photographs were used in a mural by local artist Bob Faust that sits outside the law enforcement training center’s walls.

“I think it really is all about letting our kids know that they already have the greatness inside them…” Crowly said, adding the nonprofit will let the youth drive engagement officers with law enforcement. “We need our kids to tell us what they want to see, they’re going to have ideas that we never thought of, they’re going to bring up things that are going to make sure that we do this in a way that’s sustainable and that lasts for generations.”