Updated: Aug 1, 2020
When God gives us a vision for the future, He rarely gives us a play by play rule book with specific details concerning how we should get there. In fact, He usually just gives us a “word,” or a “knowing” in our soul about the direction He wants our lives to go in. For Phil Jackson, he had no idea that God would call him to be a director of a nonprofit one day. He was perfectly content with the ministry work he was doing with youth and millennials at his church. Then one day, God revealed to him that he was going to open up a performing and creative arts community center for youth on the Westside of Chicago. Now how was Phil going to accomplish that??? Well, that was a journey.
Prior to receiving this vision, Phil was known for his anointed ability to connect with youth and draw them closer to God. In 2001, Phil traveled all over the United States working with Compassion International to train other believers who worked in youth ministry. After serving with Compassion for a few years, he returned to Chicago and started a worship service for youth and millennials under Lawndale Christian Community Church called the “Hip Hop Church,” also known as the HOUSE. The church’s unique incorporation of hip hop and creative expression attracted young people from all over the city, helping them to develop deep, authentic relationships with God. The House had more success than Phil could ever imagine, but the youth who attended were seeking a place where they could go to throughout the week to engage in the arts. This prompted Phil to conduct a big community survey at his church, which confirmed that there was a significant need for a center of this kind in the North Lawndale area.
Later that year, in December of 2007, Phil came across this abandon Fire Station. It had been vacant for over three years but was in a location that was perfect for a community center. At that moment, God gave him the vision to start a nonprofit, and this old abandoned fire station would be the home for it. He wanted this to be an organization that worked to transform the lives of youth and young adults through the arts. He also knew a program like this could significantly help to decrease the violence in the area, but there was one problem. The building was on sale for $300,000, and Phil didn’t have this type of money lying around. At that point, Phil decided he had to activate his faith, understanding that if God wanted him to buy this building, He would make a way. Phil reached out to the Alderman at that time and shared with her his desire to purchase the building. With the Alderman's support, Phil was able to negotiate the price down for the building to $76,000.00. Phil’s church provided him with the seed money to purchase the building, and he was able to sign the papers to close on the property in December 2007.
That same month, they had a big ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the purchase of the Firehouse Community Arts Center. There was so much excitement brewing amongst members of the community about this project, but Phil knew his work was just beginning. Although Phil’s church was very supportive of his vision, once they secured the building, they left it up to Phil to figure out his next steps. Phil, on the other hand, had no idea what he was doing. This entire process left him feeling like a fish out of water, but he knew that God had called him to do it, so he took everything one step at a time. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, they immediately started the process of rehabbing the facility. The Firehouse needed a ton of work, and by there being limited capital funds available for him to put towards the renovation, he recognized that getting the nonprofit off the ground was going to be a labor of love. He leveraged volunteers and workers through a government assistance program, to begin working on the building. While the rehab project was underway, he established a board of directors and filed the necessary paperwork for the Firehouse to become a 501c3 organization. After that, Phil began to hit the streets to galvanize the additional support needed amongst members of the community. Day after day, when he was not at the Firehouse helping to rehab the building, he was out meeting with people and sharing his dream for the Firehouse. While the building was still in the early stages of construction, Phil and his team began conducting their program in other venues until they could move into their building.
His hard work and passion allowed him to secure additional funding and support for the project, and in 2010, they were able to start running programs out of the facility. The word continued to spread about the Firehouse, and the youth in the area embraced the spoken word, dance classes, and visual arts programs that were offered. As the years went by, Phil realized that he needed to concentrate all of his efforts towards taking the Firehouse to the next level. In 2016, he resigned from his position at his church, so he could work at the Firehouse full time. The church previously paid half of his salary, so when he left his job, half of his income left with him. Resources were still limited for him at the Firehouse, so there were months where Phil couldn’t take home a paycheck because he needed to make sure his staff were paid first. Thankfully, he had a strong wife by his side who supported his vision, and even though finances were tight, they were able to survive off of the income she brought in the home.
Their sacrifice was not in vain. Since then, the Firehouse became recognized as a pillar in the community, serving nearly 400 youth each year through its various outreach and creative arts programs. Phil has seen hundreds of youth who were on the wrong path, walk through the doors, and turn their lives around as a result of the programs and love they received at the Firehouse. Looking back over the last twelve years, Phil acknowledges that he made his fair share of mistakes along the way, but the grace of God covered him throughout this journey, and God honored his obedience by demonstrating unmerited favor towards Phil. Even though opening the Firehouse was one of the most challenging things he has ever done, Phil knew that this project was bigger than him, and God was able to use this experience as an opportunity to stretch his faith. The Firehouse is just one example of the extraordinary things God can do through someone who is willing to answer the call. God doesn’t call the qualified, but He qualifies those who are willing to say “yes” to His perfect will so that God’s kingdom agenda can be accomplished. The work continues for Phil, but at the end of the day, he knows that his life has made an impact on this world; and for him, that's all that matters. To learn more about the outstanding work that takes place at the Firehouse every day, visit www.thefcac.org.
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