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When Reverend Sydney Logwood first began renting space at 213 N. Washington in Carbondale he envisioned a place where citizens returning from prison could gain access to necessary social and business skills. Now, three years after setting up a four-top shoeshine bench, the building is full of budding businesses and entrepreneurial opportunity.

It has taken a genuine cast of characters, present, and past, to bring The Center for Empowerment and Justice increasingly closer to a self-sustaining model where the non-profit structure is supported by revenue generating activities and for-profit entities.

The Center, as it’s often referred to by those who participate, has a lot of activity going on.

Reverend Logwood, who has also spent many years in the barbeque business, has launched a food cart with Solomon Young, a returning citizen who hopes to expand their operation to a network of food carts providing entrepreneurial opportunities to returning citizens who would otherwise be excluded from equitable employment.

Jennifer Fertaly, who has acted as The Center’s director and most valuable resource, has opened a full-service print shop. She has managed to launch the print shop at The Center while still providing a depth of social work services and leadership to any person and any entity who comes through the door, including police departments, healthcare providers and court systems.

Kate Heist, a former coal miner, and master seamstress is working with several interested parties at The Center to convert one of the four rooms into a sewing shop. Much like Reverend Logwood and Solomon Young’s food cart, Heist hopes that her guidance and expertise in the use of textiles will empower individuals to seek their own vision with a valuable, newfound set of skills.

Orlan Mays, a local fixture at Carbondale’s Farmers’ Market and an agricultural innovator, has established a literacy program for youth. The lessons Mays has shared with youth in the classroom at The Center has led to an interest from John A. Logan College, who is working to bring an adult literacy class to The Center that may provide math proficiency coursework as well.

Joe McGuire, who came to Carbondale to seek temporary housing at Good Samaritan House, has started a mobile welding business. He received help from The Center too with his mobile welding truck, applying his phone number and business information to the truck so it may act as its own marketing tool.

Resources at The Center include a five-station (and growing) computer lab, meeting spaces for individuals and organizations and versatile workspaces that have been used to create a tiny house and electricity-generating solar trees. All of this works because of the social support of community members who want to pursue their own visions while helping others achieve their own goals and solve problems.

What we do at The Center for Empowerment and Justice highlights the viable intersections of co-working spaces, maker spaces, and social justice initiatives. It validates its work at all levels to all people, whether its businesspeople who value commerce, creators who value initiative, or activists who value outcomes.

If you’ve got a vision you’d like to bring to fruition, or if you’d just like to help people, come to 213 N. Washington in Carbondale. It may not be what you’re expecting, but it may be just what you’re looking for.

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Nathan Colombo is a Carbondale native, stand-up comedian, and marketing professional. His small business, Brand Advocacy Group, Inc, provides digital media services for other small, local businesses in and around Southern Illinois.

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