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The Aspire Center - A Faith Story

United Way of Metro Chicago

Ten years after Emmet Elementary School on the West Side of Chicago was closed, community leaders and their partners broke ground on the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation in the school’s parking lot.

“This is what it takes. It takes a village,” said Darnell Shields, executive director for Austin Coming Together, the community quarterback agency for United Way of Metro Chicago’s Austin Neighborhood Network. “That’s what it takes to be able to transform, to make it right, to rebuild your community. This is what moving forward together looks and feels like.” 

The Aspire Center will be a workforce development hub, with a manufacturing training center, local businesses, and community space. The Aspire Center is supported by a $5 million investment from United Way of Metro Chicago, as well as government funding and generous corporate and foundation partners.

Corporate investment in community is key, but so is the physical presence of that investment. Not only is BMO a key investor in the Aspire Center, but they will also be a tenant in the building. Another longtime corporate partner, Illinois Tool Works (ITW), has partnered with United Way and Austin Coming Together to launch the Commit to a Neighborhood Initiative. Through the initiative, ITW will establish a manufacturing facility in Austin and partner with local workforce development organizations to recruit, train, and support residents in their career development.  

“Today starts another turning point toward our victory in setting things right,” Shields said. “We are more than just resilient, we are united. Making the impossible, possible. This is a faith story.”

In communities across the United States and around the world, United Way is working to help build stronger, more equitable neighborhoods.