The forecast called for overcast skies and a chilly morning, but the clouds seemed to part at just the right moment. As a group of toddlers sang, sun now shining on their tiny faces, families, MPS students, business and community leaders gathered in the parking lot of Longfellow School. Together they celebrated a day that’s been 12 years in the making.
On Friday, Sept. 16, ground was broken for the Journey House Center for Youth and Family Athletics. The new addition, a collaboration of Longfellow School and Journey House, will serve the two institutions by providing a new cafeteria, kitchen, gym, computer labs and classrooms.
“This center embraces the entire family, and to move families out of chronic poverty and joblessness it takes education,” said Michele Bria, Journey House CEO.
The project is a major element of the Clarke Square quality of life plan, created as part of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative, which began in 2008.
Dignitaries at the event included Mayor Tom Barrett, MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton and Susan Lloyd, CEO of the Zilber Family Foundation.
The idea for the center originated in the late 1990s, during a meeting by then Mayor John Norquist and representatives from Journey House, including Bria. Norquist suggested that the organization and school join forces and build a facility on Longfellow’s blacktop playground, as both struggled with severe overcrowding and outdated facilities.
Philanthropy, perseverance and cooperation among numerous entities eventually led to the plan — altered and shelved on several occasions — finally being put in motion.
“People have heard our promises for far too many years,” Wendell Smith, principal of Longfellow, told the group.
Veronica Vazquez was one of about 200 people who attended the groundbreaking with her daughter, Kendra. Vazquez has taken GED and ESL classes at Journey House’s Adult Learning Center, 1900 W. Washington St., for three months and her husband for a year.
“The best way to better our family is to study and to learn English,” she said. But classes are crowded, and space minimal, she noted. Fernando Mendoza, who takes GED, ESL and computer classes, concurred. Mendoza has been studying at the Adult Learning Center for three years.
“There are a lot of students packed into a small classroom; but I hear that the new building will be much bigger, have more computers and give us more liberty,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza, who lives in Clarke Square two blocks from where the new center will be located, also plans to use the gym, which will be shared by the school and Journey House.
So far, the concrete base of the center has been poured. Most of the structure should be done by February, before the extreme cold and snow, and site work will begin in the spring, according to Kevin Kopplin, superintendent of the project for KBS Construction of Milwaukee.
Kopplin said the company is shooting for a June completion of the 130- by 170-foot center.
“The center will be a catalyst for our neighborhood to flourish and prosper; it’s an exciting time to be in the Clarke Square neighborhood,” Bria said.