Up for sale, Family Focus commits to maintaining presence in Evanston


(Julia Esparza/Daily Senior Staffer)

Evanston Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave. The center’s building is for sale, but Family Focus President and CEO Merri Ex said the programming will not leave Evanston.

Clare Proctor, Reporter

The Family Focus Evanston building, is up for sale, but Merri Ex — the president and CEO of Family Focus, Inc. — said Family Focus in Evanston is “not closing.”

“We are not leaving Evanston,” Ex said. “We are selling the building, but we have committed to maintaining our programs in Evanston.”

The Evanston Family Focus center, located at 2010 Dewey Ave., learned that the organization’s headquarters and board of directors decided to sell the building nearly two years ago, said Colette Allen, the center’s director. Allen said the decision to sell and resulting uncertainty has left residents “upset” and “stressed.”

As more time continues to pass without a purchaser for the building, Allen said it “keeps everybody in limbo.”

“It makes them more anxious that nothing is happening one way or another,” Allen said. “Our participants, staff, organizations that are tenants in the building, they’re all anxious for some type of resolution.”

Family Focus, Inc. started in Evanston in 1976 as a social service agency to support child development and well-being by strengthening and supporting families. The nonprofit now has seven centers throughout the Chicago area. Some of its programming includes early childhood home visits, after-school programming and a family advocacy center funded by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services that works to reconnect families involved in the DCFS system.

Ex said Family Focus, Inc. has been “very clear” with the realtor that they want to sell to someone who plans to maintain the building as a community center. The organization hopes to remain a tenant in the building after selling to a new owner, she said.

The other six Family Focus centers in the Chicago area are all rented, Ex said, and the decision to sell the Evanston building and become a renter was made because the group is “not in management of buildings.” She said the organization is running a deficit, largely because of operational costs associated with maintaining the building. She said they would rather focus funding on the center’s programs.

“What we don’t have the money for and have to raise money for is people not in those programs,” Ex said. “For example janitorial staff, maintenance, supplies, the executive director, the assistant.”

When Rose Johnson — the president of the Evanston Family Focus auxiliary board — found out Family Focus, Inc. was selling the Evanston building, she and a group of other community members came together to form Foster Center Our Place. The group has been working for two years to attempt to purchase the building from Family Focus, Johnson said.

FCOP is committed to purchasing the building to maintain it as a community center, Johnson said. The group plans to continue renting to all 19 social service agencies currently occupying the center, if they are able to purchase the building.

“That’s one of the reasons everybody’s working so hard, because we think that that is a very important thing to keep going,” Johnson said. “It’s an invaluable group of people, and I can’t think of who we would want to replace them with.”

FCOP made an offer to Family Focus, Inc. in November 2018. The organization acknowledged the offer in January 2019 but did not accept it because it was “well below” the $2.5 million current price estimation, Johnson said. She added that the cost to repair the building, in addition to the cost to purchase the property, would be about $5 million.

The group has received promises of financial contributions but has not been able to receive donations because they do not yet own the building, Johnson said. She added that the group has “exhausted the list” of notable donors in Evanston and has “left no stone unturned.” The group has contacted state and federal legislators, as well as city officials, who have all been helpful, Johnson said.

Community members have been enthusiastic about providing help in alternative ways, Johnson said.

“There is great interest in the building,” Johnson said. “And I cannot tell you how many people have asked how they can help, mainly people who don’t have the big bucks, but they want to help.”

Maintaining the current Family Focus center is important to the community, especially in the 5th Ward, Johnson said.

“The building is very meaningful to the black community and everything because that’s the school that was for black people back in the day,” Johnson said. “It’s within walking distance of just about everybody who lives in the 5th Ward. And, they can come there for all kinds of social services.”

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