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Firehouse Arts Center seeks community change through engagement in arts, faith

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

We all know it costs more to incarcerate a kid than to educate one, but mostly, we hear about tougher penalties to combat the epidemic of youth violence that has Chicago at the tipping point.

But now, there's an example of the other weapon: helping kids make better choices by giving them better options.

An abandoned firehouse on the West Side is now burning up with creativity -- or at least it will be soon, if the fundraising is successful.

The latest project of Lawndale Community Church and its youth-oriented hip-hop church is called "The House." The Firehouse Arts Center sits at the cross roads of Little Village and North Lawndale--the dividing line between Latin and black gang turf.

"Our thing is uplifting the property, uplifting the face of whatever it is in the community, to show both the struggle and the successes of what life is like, and being able to do that through the arts," Pastor Phil Jackson of Lawndale Community Church explains. "By the spring of 2014, that's our plan we wanna have the tech lab, culinary arts visual arts, dance studio, everything functioning by the spring of 2014."

"They have a lot of conflict but there's a lot of commonality in their humanity, and as we can find that, we can build some bridges and begin to decrease some of the violence," he adds.

They're using the arts as a magnet to this safe space for creative expression.

"Some of the basic things that they're learning right now are volume, tone, shapes, light to dark, contrast, harmony, very basic principles of art," Luis Munoz explains.

"For me, it's a positive energy on the way I draw," 15-year-old Ricki Orneles says. "And I don't think about anything else but what I'm drawing."

A former student has become a global break dancing sensation. Jarius King, also known as "Man of God," learned his moves at the church, earned a full ride to college and is thrilled to now recruit neighborhood kids to the new center.

He was lured by the art of dance and then schooled on so much more.

"We're working on using a program called the wonders of physics and using that to teach the principles of physics and science to youth, so turning the dance competition that we hold into an actual program to educate youth worldwide," says Jarius King.

Likewise, pop locking is not just a dance. Learning to pop your muscles and lock your joints takes discipline, practice and patience.

"I see young girls come up to me and they're very like, surprised and excited and they wanna do it too," Carolyn Carney tells FOX 32. "Basically that's what hip hop is about, it's about self-empowerment."

To realize the dream of a real community arts center, the firehouse still needs a lot of work - even for the dancing and visual arts programs which are already underway.

One raw space is destined to be a commercial kitchen for the culinary program and another empty room will be the tech center--if enough supporters see this firehouse as a lifesaver.

"12 to 25 is gonna be our target demographic and so we're gonna have some marketable skills we're gonna teach here," Pastor Phil says. "We're gonna create some business so we can create some revenues to sustain it, but we're gonna be an art center that's gonna be able to spark new flames one kid at a time."

It would be the only concentrated art center on the West Side. They've spent about $700,000 so far, and this weekend there will be a firehouse celebration to help raise the rest.


The 1st Annual "Say YES" Experience & Dinner at The Firehouse Community Arts Center is Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6 p.m. with guest speaker Tony Campolo. For more information and to RSVP online:

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