At South Side Mission, an ambitious new project has roots stretching back almost a century.
In 1925, Helen Haien would invite children to her South Peoria home for all-day Sunday school. She felt that low-income youth could best break the bondage of poverty if equipped with Christian values.
From those beginnings arose South Side Mission, which today offers multiple ministries inside and outside its longtime site at 1127 S. Laramie St. Its youth programs are about to get a big boost.
South Side Mission is launching an expansion of its youth ministry in both scope and size. The building will undergo renovations to provide 7,600 square feet of learning space, virtual libraries and computer labs. Meantime, new classes and mentorships will focus on life and job skills.
“We continue to have a powerful focus on our youth,” said Rev. Craig Williams, the mission’s executive director. “We have had great youth ministries, and we are looking to build them even more as we meet the needs of our youth today.”
“It’s a pretty hefty expansion,” he said.
Preliminary demolition work has begun inside parts of the building, mostly in anticipation of ripping down walls and creating open areas. Eventually, the site will host a new youth center, with two floors of learning spaces boasting a heavy investment in technology. Though some adult programs will spend time there, the computer labs and libraries are aimed at students through high school.
“The technology is a must, especially in the 61605 (ZIP code) where there are many homes without reliable internet access,” Williams said. “The fact is that our youth will be able to interact anywhere across the city, state or country in an expanded learning environment.”
Improvements also will include a new Worship Center, plus an enlarged Culinary Arts area. The mission already offers culinary classes to adults looking at a food-industry job track. The added space will allow similar kitchen training for youths.
“We’re going to be teaching them the basics of food and home to prepare food,” Williams says.
In addition to academic tutoring and mentoring, the bolstered youth ministry will offer more career and life skills. New thrusts will involve classes in agriculture, Spanish and American sign language.
Meantime, amid all the learning, Mission leaders plan to make the place fun. The computer area will double as an entertainment and gaming center, with a spiritual bent.
“This is going to be an escape room, with a Christian foundation,” Williams said. “It’s all through a Bible perspective.”
The mission has been sharing project plans with partnering churches, donors and others. Fundraising will be part of the mission’s Vision Possible initiatives, including two coming up soon.
One is the annual South Side Mission fundraiser, to be held Sept. 26 at St. Paul Baptist Church in Peoria, with Dr. Tony Evans as the featured guest. Information is available at southsidemission.org/dr-tony-evans-returns-to-peoria/.
The other is the return of the DVI Corporate Ping Pong Challenge on Oct. 12. Information is available at southsidemission.org/dvi-corporate-ping-pong-challenge-returns-oct-12th/.
Williams said the project will be completed in stages, as funding comes in.
“We’re going to believe God can start some things,” he said.