It was a warm Saturday morning, this April 9th when a gathering of business, political, and religious leaders among friends and supporters of The Peace Corner celebrated a grand opening. In an area where the impossible and hopelessness seems to be the reality, one building proved that anything is possible.
It was an event that included speakers from an Illinois State Representative to a youth with an inspiring journey. But this was no ordinary grand opening. This was the culmination of 5 years from the first new building pledge and almost 10 years of the very beginning of The Peace Corner.
Identifying a need for a safe place that youth can learn and be themselves, Fr. Maurizio Binaghi, a Comboni Missionary, in 2002 founded The Peace Corner. With uproar from the nearby train tracks the first center was noisy, but full of love and hope. As more youth came to The Peace Corner, space became an issue, so the center moved a few blocks away to a larger facility. By offering new programs for youth and young adults, once again space became limited and thus was the beginning of the dream for a new building.
In a zone of the city where theft is common and violence often a way of life, The Peace Corner kept its windows at the corner of Lavergne and Madison uncovered and unbarred: looking in, you could see a large TV, tables lined with computers, a pool table, and other valuables. Despite this open display, The Peace Corner has never been broken into. That’s because The Peace Corner since the beginning wasn’t just a name: it was a space of services ranging from GED preparation and legal advice to simply offering a disinterested place where to relax and enjoy the air conditioning.
On most days, the center was bustling with activity, with an average of 60-70 youths’ presence to socialize. On a number of occasions, gang conflict has been prevented through the mediation of The Peace Corner staff, which itself is made up of some members who have given up life on the streets to aid Father Maurizio in his task.
In fact, just as the center was growing physically, so have the youth that have benefited from its presence. As so, three moving moments highlighted the opening speeches and brought the presence to cheer spontaneously.
A young man, Sebastian Longstreet, told his story from a life of selling and consuming drugs and passing some “jail” time to working now as a youth supervisor while preparing for college: it was a testament to the commitment and life changing attributes of the center.
Then father Maurizio, offering is word of thanks, was stopped nearly in tears when remembering the killing of two of first young men attending The Peace Corner.
Finally, even a local politician, the Chief of staff of local senator in Washington, emphasized that The Peace Corner should continue to receive support from the community as it provides an avenue for opportunities. So he called the community to put pressure on local and federal authorities to ensure a annual financial support.
Well-wishers at the grand opening were very excited, especially The Comboni Missionaries in attendance. As Fr. Binaghi is a Comboni Missionary, they have been especially supportive since the very beginning of The Peace Corner. In the words of Rev. Louie Gasparini, former Provincial of the Comboni Missionaries, “The building construction may have come to an end, but this center is a new beginning for dreams to become reality”.
The dream of The Peace Corner aims to accomplish some specific goals: provide a safe haven and neutral ground to young people living in a neighbourhood characterized by gang violence and drug use; create a sense of belonging and community for young people as a potent alternative to the lure of street life and gang membership; instil self-esteem and pride of accomplishment by endowing young people with responsibility and “ownership” of The Peace Corner.
The Peace Corner’ dream is growing. As the youth’s numbers increases, the youths’ human growth becomes visible and inspires all the society: a more peaceful and just world may be attainable after all.