For the children who go to Casa Juan Diego, this summer brought a newly renovated facility with room for guitar lessons and better facilities for the academic work that goes on at the center. Casa Juan Diego, at St. Pius V Parish in Pilsen, offers children in first through eighth grades after school and summer programs aimed at developing literacy, connecting them to their Hispanic culture and encouraging them to spread peace in their communities. The $750,000 capital project created individual classrooms and smaller learning spaces in what was once a large, open hall, said Mary McCann Sanchez, the youth center’s director at the time of the reopening. It raised its summer capacity from the roughly 100 children who participated this year to about 150. Sanchez stepped down after the summer but continues to serve on its board. The center also has a larger after-school capacity, but Sanchez said it is rebuilding enrollment after moving to a nearby church space during the renovation. The program, which once had about 70 children after school each day, dropped to fewer than 50. Most participants come from one of five nearby public schools, and some attend St. Pius, she said. Students must get to Casa Juan Diego on their own or with their parents, although Sanchez said she would like to have a van program to transport children to the center. Launched in 1996 as a partnership with local parents concerned about gangs and crime in the neighborhood, the center empowers Hispanic children and youth to do well in school, pursue higher education and stay close to their families. Children who come after school get help with organizational skills as well as academics, and the center emphasizes reading in both English and Spanish. “It’s important to help our duallanguage learners read,” she said. “It’s important to understand all the potential our bilingual children have.” The center uses individual and group reading to keep students on track, with family literacy nights every month to keep parents involved. Progress is tracked using an online assessment tool. Arts classes, field trips and special events celebrate the culture of Pilsen, and team-building activities and practice with conflict resolution skills help teach students to embrace non-violence, Sanchez said. Students from Dominican University, DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago also benefit from helping students at the center, doing service-learning hours with peace-building activities or working with Casa Juan Diego students on health issues and academics, Sanchez said. The renovation was completed with financial help from the State of Illinois, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation, and other individuals and foundations. For more information about Casa Juan Diego, visit www.casajuandiego.org.