BELMONT CRAGIN — For years, the team behind a Latino community center and education arts program in Logan Square wanted to reach more youth.

Now, they can finally get to work. After more than two decades in Logan Square and Humboldt Park, The Miracle Center bought a 66,000-square-foot church campus at 5454 W. Diversey Ave. in Belmont Cragin for $1.5 million. The move will give the nonprofit the space it needs to expand its services.

The campus was formerly home to the St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, built in 1848. The Miracle Center is planning a $3-4 million renovation, transforming the campus into a community center with three theaters, a wellness center, work/live spaces for artists, a fitness room and a dance hall, said Vanessa Torres, communications director at The Miracle Center.

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The Miracle Center’s new location, 5454 W. Diversey Ave., in Belmont Cragin on Oct. 14, 2021 is 17 lots long.

For the past nine years, The Miracle Center was at 2311 N. Pulaski Road in Logan Square. Its 11,400-square-foot space was bulging at the seams, Torres said.

The nonprofit planned to purchase an adjacent property in early 2020, but it didn’t work out.

The old Belmont Cragin church turned out to be a better fit.

“What is so great about it is the aesthetics,” she said. “We are going to keep the character of it. The acoustics are phenomenal.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The church that will soon be the new home of The Miracle Center, 5454 W. Diversey Ave., in Belmont Cragin will be converted into a 600-seat theater.

In addition to hosting after-school programs and performances for students interested in theater, music, dance, podcasting and cooking, the center will be a gathering space for the community, working with nearby schools and institutions to host classes and events.

The aim is to serve the area’s “cross-generational” families, “which means you work with the children and families and the grandmas and grandpas,” said Torres, who grew up with the center’s programs.

“After COVID, a lot of people tapped into new hobbies and outlets, even new job opportunities. … You miss that camaraderie of being with other people but also having an exchange of ideas — that’s what keeps you sharp,” she said.

The church campus’ four kitchens will be renovated and the largest one will house a workforce development cooking program. It also has 28 multipurpose rooms, five pianos, and will add a production center and a cafe.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The stage in the basement at The Miracle Center’s new location, 5454 W. Diversey Ave., in Belmont Cragin on Oct. 14, 2021 will be used as the workshop and fellowship stage for students.

The massive renovation will be completed in phases as the organization receives funding. The team hopes to fully open the center by fall 2022 but will resume in-person programs at the beginning of 2022.

The Miracle Center is working with longtime supporters like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Family Fund, the Hispanic Federation, The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, GOYA Foods, Walmart and others to secure funding for its renovation work.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The gymnasium at The Miracle Center’s new location, 2805 N. Linder Ave., in Belmont Cragin on Oct. 14, 2021.

Since The Miracle Center’s founding 26 years ago by Executive Director Mary Santana, it has served more than 20,000 students with a 94 percent high school graduation rate, produced and presented more than 50 professional-quality productions and hosted more than 35,000 audience members. The center’s work was the focus of a documentary in 2019.

When the pandemic hit, the center pivoted to offer food drives in partnership with local food pantries, free therapy and space for its members to learn remotely. These services, coupled with its popular art programs, bring The Miracle Center’s mission full circle, and they will have room to grow in its new home, Torres said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The church that will soon be the new home of The Miracle Center, 5454 W. Diversey Ave., in Belmont Cragin will be converted into a black-box theater.

Santana, who grew up in Logan Square and started The Miracle Center from her home in Humboldt Park, said she is excited about the transition to Belmont Cragin. She hopes the move will open up new possibilities and give artists and creative people an affordable space to share their talents with others – especially those who work out of their home.

“This gives them an outlet to have space and be in the space with other creatives and get the hell out of the house,” Santana said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Vanessa Torres, communications director, looks on from the stage in the basement at The Miracle Center’s new location, 5454 W. Diversey Ave. in Belmont Cragin on Oct. 14, 2021.

When the community center opens next year, The Miracle Center leaders hope it’ll serve as a home to Latino families who might not have access to health care, education and community.

“We want this place to be a place that can take you back to your” culture, Santana said. “You know when you go home and put your slippers on? In Spanish, they are called chanclas. It’s like coming in and putting your chanclas on, and that means you’re home.”

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