CHICAGO — For the first time in its history, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center has secured federal funding for its violence prevention programs.

The $200,000 federal grant, secured by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), will go toward street outreach and helping those who are young and disadvantaged.

“If we do not address the stressors influencing youths’ lives,” said Cliff Nellis, Executive Director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center. “Then we will not succeed in breaking the cycle of violence and poverty in our communities.”

The center launched a new project after acquiring the grant where they will build a new housing complex that will allow 20 young men with criminal records the chance to live in a new environment, dormitory-style, designed to get them on a new path with mentoring and job skill training.

Ground has been broken on the project and it is set to be complete by Spring 2024.

Since the center opened 13 years ago, it was built to serve young people of Chicago. More than 1,000 people — ages 24 and younger — have been helped by their programs, which include wraparound services that go beyond standard legal help like mental health support, job skills development, and life mentoring.

One such person who has benefitted from the center is Fredrick Dennis, a once troubled youth who is now an entrepreneur.

“I first heard about LCLC when I was 15 years old,” Dennis said.

At the time, life seemed grim for Dennis. He had just been charged as an adult and faced a lifetime prison sentence.

“I grew up in this area, a rough area,” Dennis said of Lawndale. “My mom tried her best. I said it was because of the situation [I came] from … shootings, gun shots, people getting killed. [It’s] not a good life.”

With the center’s help, Dennis turned his life around. Today, he owns two businesses — a lawn care and home repair company and a semi-truck dispatcher — while going to business school and raising a family.

“A lot of people just need to have a heart and a hustle to be different.” Dennis said. “So you’re not stuck in this neighborhood.”

Sen. Durbin said he sees the pain people like Dennis have dealt with and how it can negatively influence someone’s character if there isn’t something or someone there to step in and help.

“They’ve been exposed to things that most of us in our lives will never face,” Sen. Durbin said. “It molds their character unless something intervenes.”

That’s where places like the Lawndale Christian Legal Center come in.

“We shouldn’t be surprised,” Nellis said. “Kids, when given the choice for a better future, they take advantage of it just like any kid in any neighborhood across our country.”