Quiwana Bell, Chief Development Officer of Westside Health Authority, speaks at the Aspire Center Celebration.

On July 27th, scores of Austin residents and local leaders gathered at the site of the future Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation on the Northeast corner of Madison and Central to celebrate its path toward progress and the impact it will bring to the community. With the vision of the Aspire Center becoming a reality, the entire Austin community was welcomed to the site for a landmark celebration! Fulfilling a key focal project from the Austin Forward. Together (AFT) quality-of-life plan, Westside Health Authority (WHA, an ACT member organization) in partnership with Austin Coming Together (ACT) plans to repurpose a closed three-acre Chicago Public School building to create a space where partners can work in collaboration, intersect programmatic initiatives and provide services to residents from one central location. In redeveloping the building space, the location is primed to become the physical embodiment of “collective impact” and a vital community anchor for systemic change.

Establishing the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation in the closed Emmet School strongly dovetails with many of Austin’s AFT quality-of-life plan strategies in economic development and youth empowerment. These include strategies to:

  • Expand and support local resources like boot camps and apprenticeships in high-demand economic sectors such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and building and trades
  • Build a new Manufacturing Training Center in Austin
  • Invest in entrepreneurship development programs
  • Incorporate a co-op model for local restaurants, grocery stores, and housing
  • Attract major commercial anchors
  • Establish physical places where youth can gather and community-based organizations can offer services
  • Enhance the trauma support service system for youth and families
  • Create paths for youth interactions with mentors and role models

The celebration kicked off with remarks from key developers of the projects. Quiwana Bell, Chief Development Officer of Westside Health Authority spoke on the importance of the deep level of community involvement that has sparked the opportunity to revitalize the vacant site.Later in the program, various individuals were recognized and presented with awards for their support and dedication to the project. 101st District Representative La Shawn K. Ford and 29th Ward Alderman Chris Taliaferro were honored with an award for their steadfast advocating of the project in acquiring funds on the city and state level, while 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts and 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin were thanked for their support as well.

A group of Austin women were recognized and awarded for their faith and commitment to the project’s development.

In addition to the recognition of these elected officials, a group of women community activists were praised for walking and praying over the site, showing faith that it would be transformed for community use.

The women honored:

  • Ruby Bailey
  • Kimberly Bright
  • Mildred Edwards
  • Queen Esther Forrest
  • Jackie Guider
  • Sharon Minor
  • Mary Joyce Nunn
  • Erica Perkins
  • Rosetta Perkins
  • Jackie Reed
  • Tina Walker
  • Vera Wardlaw
  • Calisa Williams

After being part of the planning for the site since its inception, I am confident that the incredible innovation seen throughout the project’s development will open so many pathways for Austin residents.

“It takes a village. No one person, organization, or entity can move this community forward. It takes all of us.” -Darnell Shields, ACT Executive Director

Following the ceremony, attendees enjoyed food from Uncle Remus Chicken, El Azteca Tacos, and Forty Acres Fresh Market, danced to music from DJ Jody Bady, and had the opportunity to engage with a variety of community resource tables. Thanks to all who joined me at this magnificent community event! With construction already underway at the Aspire Center, the site is slated to open in 2024.

To learn more, visit austincomingtogether.org/aspire-center