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Longtime Social Service Group Moving To New West Side HQ

Artistic rendering of UCAN's new campus in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which should be completed by the end of 2014. (Credit: UCAN)

Artistic rendering of UCAN’s new campus in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which should be completed by the end of 2014. (Credit: UCAN)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A 144-year old social services group is moving its headquarters from the city’s North Side to a brand new facility in a blighted area of the West Side.

Ground was broken this morning in the North Lawndale neighborhood, at Central Park Avenue and Fillmore Street, at site of the old Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog plant, for a new state-of-the-art campus for the organization known as UCAN.

The new $34.4 million will include a 54,000-square-foot Therapeutic Youth Home, which will house 65-70 young people from ages 6-18. There also will be a new program services/headquarters building on the site.

The group provides support for children who have suffered various forms of trauma — from child abuse to street violence to the effects of poverty.

“UCAN believes that kids who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders,” UCAN CEO Tom VandenBerk said.

VandenBerk said the group is moving from its current location at Addison and California, where the group has been headquartered for 85 years. He says that facility is “obsolete now”.

UCAN’s programs go as far north as Vernon Hills, and as far south as Riverdale, making its new West Side home “a real central location,” according to VandenBerk.

He said more than 300 employees will work out of the new facility, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago) said she’s excited about the new facility.

“Many of the children have disabilities, emotional struggles. They see a lot of violence, and this gives them a chance to get the counseling and support,” she said.

UCAN served nearly 14,000 young people last year.

Chase Larkin, 23, works as a youth leadership specialist for UCAN. He now helps kids at inner-city schools, just as UCAN once did for him.

Larkin said the program exposed him “to different things; kind of showed me the little box I lived in was not the entire world, and I could do a lot more with my life.”

VandenBerk said UCAN was founded in 1869 by people who wanted to create a facility for children left orphaned when their fathers were killed in the Civil War.