Bethel New Life History
Bethel New Life was birthed out of the ministry of Bethel Lutheran Church in the West Garfield Park community in the 1970’s. This was a time when a loss of working-class jobs, racial tension, and
poverty severely impacted the community. By 1979 the area was losing approximately 200 housing units per year to demolition, had no local bank, no major grocery store, few good doctors, and too few jobs.
In 1979 Bethel Housing was founded when the church bought an abandoned 3-flat from HUD for $250 and through sweat equity restored the building. The process of accomplishing the restoration triggered a continuation of restoring homes through the work of church members and neighbors desiring to see their community restored while teaching new employable skills.
In 1982 Bethel Housing became Bethel New Life and continued to address the diverse needs of the community with the expansion of programs and services being provided. In addition to the housing restoration a number of programs were added: senior home repair, weatherization, a food co-op, adult day care, a holistic health center, employment services and small business assistance, childcare and early learning, senior housing, and more.
In 1989 Bethel New Life was able to purchase the campus of the former St. Anne’s Hospital which had closed the previous year. The campus was repurposed to provide housing, office space, plus a wide variety of other community services.
Since 1979, Bethel has earned a national reputation for cutting edge initiatives and pioneering approaches that build on the people, physical assets, and faith base of the community. Bethel strives to turn problems into possibilities through community efforts that arise out of commitment to self help and self determination with community-based, value-centered, solution oriented initiatives.
PARTNERSHIP AND DEVELOPMENT
The 1990’s saw Bethel continue to be engaged in community advocacy and development. This included partnering with Bigelow Homes in the construction of new energy efficient homes, development of the Youth Enterprise Network, a welfare to work initiative, and anti-crime/drug initiatives.
Once just a housing ministry, Bethel now supports a variety of community development and social service programs. From a mentoring program for youth to job training for the formerly incarcerated to living facilities for seniors, Bethel’s footprint on the West Side is vast. Over the last 32 years, Bethel’s journey has led to the creation of over 1,000 units of housing, 7,000 employed residents, and an array of community asset-building strategies.
Beth Anne Residences and Beth Anne Place
In 2003 Bethel opened Beth Anne Residences and Beth Anne Place providing independent and supportive living options for low-income seniors. In addition to Bethel New Life’s offices being on campus, Bethel began partnering with other community development organizations, whose missions and services were in alignment with Bethel’s mission, by providing space on the campus at below market costs to bring new programs and expertise to our community.
Thus, the Hub concept was born. Bethel brought together a wide variety of organizations providing needed services, and coordinates and manages those relationships. Some of the organizations currently partnering on the Bethel New life Campus include; U of I Extension providing cooking and nutrition education; Project Exploration providing STEM programing for elementary students; Chicago Botanical Garden/Windy City Harvest teaching gardening and healthy food choices; Amazon/Amazon Fresh partnering with Bethel in the Daily Bready Food Pantry.
Mildred Wiley Wellness Hub (MWWH)
The Mildred Wiley Wellness Hub (MWWH) is inspired by the life and work of Mildred Wiley, an Austin community leader and activist who was dedicated to improving quality of life. Wiley also served as the Senior Director of Community Services at Bethel New Life before her passing in 2019. The Bethel New Life campus is located at the 4900 block of West Thomas and Division Streets, between Lamon and Lavergne Avenues, and is the location for the MWWH.
The MWWH’s goal is to provide opportunities to improve some or all of the “8 Dimensions of Wellness”. The heart of the hub will be the urban farm and will be the catalyst for the phases of the proposal:
- Phase 0.5 (Summer 2021): New garden beds and therapeutic horticulture activities in the Courtyard.
- Phase 1 (2021-2022): Expansion of the Courtyard Garden and creation of a new Horticulture Center (Horticenter), with space for classes and further gardening.
- Phase 2 (TBD): Expansion of the hub beyond the courtyard with landscaped parks/plazas, fitness center, café, new landscaped access point from Division St. and more.
2021 brought the Phase I of the development of the Mildred Wiley Wellness Hub (MWWH).