January 20, 2006

Social services center reopens for Woodlawn community

Community members from Woodlawn and beyond gathered to celebrate the opening of the Living Room Cafe, a center providing social services to the Woodlawn community, at its new 806 East 64th Street location on Tuesday evening. The event and ribbon-cutting ceremony featured speakers like Living Room Cafe founder Jennifer Kihm and Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul.

Situated just across the street from its previous location on 64th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, the Living Room Cafe now enjoys one-third more space to accommodate participants’ needs, including private offices for counseling and a larger kitchen, according to John Pfeiffer, deputy director at Inspiration Corporation, the nonprofit organization that runs the center.

Founded in 1995 by Jennifer Kihm, the Living Room Cafe was designed to help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless through counseling and referrals, said Judith Bobbe, director of Clinical Services for Inspiration Corporation. The center offers restaurant-style meals-—two dinners and two breakfasts each week—as well as case management services to all participants.

The Living Room Cafe offers weekly meetings with case managers for guests, who must find stable housing and a source of income in order to graduate from the center. Along with a place to live and steady employment, the perks of graduating include access to an after-school program for kids, recreational activities, employment services through Inspiration Corporation, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, according to Pfeiffer.

In his welcome address Tuesday, Executive Director Christopher Persons said that though the location has changed, the Living Room Cafe’s commitment to treating people with respect and dignity would not.

Khim said that 10 years ago she “planted a small seed in Woodlawn” which was “nurtured into a flower,” emphasizing that the space represents a new phase for the Living Room Cafe.

Reflecting on his years in public policy, Raoul noted that grassroots projects, such as the Living Room Cafe, frequently do not receive adequate attention.

Raoul said that he was proud of the center and its accomplishments in the community. He recalled how his father practiced medicine in Woodlawn for over 30 years and never once turned down a patient in need. It was his father’s “belief in healthcare as a human right,” Raoul said, that fueled his own commitment to the community.

“I’m glad to be Woodlawn’s state senator and I look forward to being continually supportive,” he added.

Many of the event’s attendees viewed the new space as a continuation of the Living Room Cafe’s commitment to respect and dignity, as emphasized in Persons’s welcome address.

Pfeiffer said in an interview that the “hallmark of our programs is treating people with dignity and respect.”

“The way you give services is just as important as the services themselves,” Alexis Jaeger, a social worker at the Living Room Cafe, said.

“We’ve created a space that’s able to be a healing place, because it reaffirms our guests’ sense of self-worth and dignity,” she added.

Designed by architect Manuela Garcia-Fauer, the new Living Room Cafe was funded by the Prince Charitable Trusts, a foundation that focuses on community development and urban planning, as well as Andy and Catie Schcolnik of ANSCO Construction, a Chicago-based development company.