New Chicago Center school to provide arts, technology training
June 4, 2017

The Chicago Center for Arts and Technology offers courses for youngsters, partnering with a wide network of organizations.

By Susan S. Stevens

A $12 million school and community center to provide arts and digital education for teenagers and career training for adults has
opened on the Near West Side. The Chicago Center for Arts and Technology, dubbed CHICAT, occupies a five-story, fully rehabbed former paint factory and office building at 1701 W. 13th St. The first classes began March 20, with a grand opening ceremony March 22.

“After much preparation, we are excited to open our doors,” said CHICAT CEO G. Sequane Lawrence. “Our leadership team has traveled the country visiting CATs in other cities and countries with the goal of bringing promising practices to the work we do here in the Illinois Medical District. “We have established meaningful partnerships with local institutions,” Lawrence continued. “We believe all individuals deserve access to resources necessary to provide a higher quality of life, including socioeconomic stability, interpersonal and professional development, and gainful employment. We will make that a reality for our students.”

Youth courses include a 3Dmaker lab, digital photography, graphic animation, graphic design, video and audio production, cartooning, drawing and painting, textiles, and printmaking. Career training for adults is offered in medical billing and coding, medical assisting, becoming a maintenance mechanic or lab technician, and quality control.

“Everything is free,” said Lawrence. “We will not charge a dime.” Funding for the school’s capital development campaign came largely through donations and $4.9 million in new markets tax credits that CHICAT raised, he said. Officials are seeking more donations for operations. New markets tax credits come through a federal program designed to increase the flow of capital to businesses in low income communities by providing tax incentives to private investors.

“We really benefit from having high-network individuals,” Lawrence said. One of the largest donors is Steven I. Sarowitz, founder and president of Paylocity, who chairs the CHICAT board. Paylocity creates online payroll and human resources software.

CHICAT selects high school students to attend after-school programs from recommendations by school principals and teachers. It chooses adults through social service “organizations that have the biggest challenge,” Lawrence said.

Low-income students
Everyone receiving training at the school will be low-income. “We are targeting those at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder,” Lawrence said. “We believe strongly that low-income people have assets, talent, and creativity.” In the first year, CHICAT officials envision training 40 adults and 80 young people. “We want to get to 150 students every year” in youth programs, Lawrence said. Eventually, CHICAT will serve 80 adults in its health care and other medical programming and 140 youth each year.

Workers have rehabbed the facility to feature upgrades such as solar panels. “We want to create a totally environmentally friendly building” that is LEED certified, Lawrence explained. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council. Suzet McKinney, executive director of the IMD Commission, is pleased about the new resident, which bought the building from the IMD.

New Chicago Center school to provide arts, technology training The Chicago Center for Arts and Technology offers courses for youngsters, partnering with a wide network of organizations.

“We are delighted to welcome the Chicago Center for Arts and Technology as our newest partner,” McKinney said. “CHICAT’s mission to create opportunities for youth and young adults will provide a critical service to underserved communities and will be a catalyst for job readiness and economic growth. Through education, training, and community development programs, CHICAT will have a tremendous impact even beyond the IMD boundaries and will provide a direct benefit to those who need it most.”

McKinney said at least one CHICAT investor may donate to the nearby Washington Irving Elementary School as well. Lawrence also serves as board president of Fathers, Families, and Healthy Communities, a post he has held for five years. He was that group’s CEO until he moved to CHICAT. Fathers, Families, and Healthy Communities helps African American noncustodial fathers reconnect with their children.

He was part of the strategic planning team that wanted to replicate in Chicago a school like those run in eight cities by the Manchester Bidwell Corp., which also has one in Israel. Since the 1970s, Manchester Bidwell has trained “thousands” of people, he said. Laura Lane, chief operations officer of CHICAT, said the board is interested in opening three other CHICAT sites in Chicago in the next few years. It has accreditation from the Illinois Board of Higher Education as a vocational school.

Focused on minimum wage training, the school will offer extensive job counseling and placement, Lane said.

To entice students, CHICAT interviews them, gives them tours, and listens to what they want from training. “We believe you don’t go into a community until you engage the community,” Lawrence said. “Get their ideas and goals.” “Students are going to be involved in a lot,” he said. “We want them to really use their talent to help their communities.”

CHICAT partners include Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen, the Chicago Cook Workforce partnership, the Illinois Manufacturers’ association, the Illinois Medical District, Options School, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Companies such as Unilever and Ferrara and institutions such as Rush University Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Hospital are also supporters.

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