Closed Joliet YMCA will reopen as youth center

MorningStar Mission Ministries hopes to have programs in place by fall on Briggs Street

Youth will return to the YMCA building on Briggs Street.

And they may have a better future because of it.

At least that’s part of the mission for MorningStar Mission Ministries’ first venture into youth services.

“My philosophy has always been if you help the youth establish themselves and give them the helping hand they need, I think you’re going to avoid them needing our services later in life,” MorningStar Mission Executive Director Sandi Perzee said.

MorningStar Mission’s services are shelter and food for the homeless, which it provides on Washington Street in Joliet.

“We see so many children come through our doors with their parents, and we’d like to break that cycle,” Perzee said Friday as she talked about MorningStar’s plan.

The YMCA is part of the plan, as MorningStar hopes to restart youth programs in the building at 1350 S. Briggs St. that closed more than a year ago.

The Zoning Board of Appeals, which previously rejected the MorningStar plan when it included a proposal to build 10 affordable housing units for adults, on Thursday approved the revised plan for youth services only.

The YMCA would run after-school programs and a summer day camp as MorningStar collaborates with other local agencies to provide programs. Catholic Charities will run a Head Start program, and MorningStar will have a day care center.

“We want to get in there as soon as possible,” Perzee said. “We have some churches and other groups who want to start some sports programs.”

The zoning board voted unanimously for the special-use permit MorningStar needs to get started. The board’s vote is the final say on the permit.

In January, the zoning board voted unanimously against the plan. Board members questioned the idea of adult housing near a facility devoted to youth programs.

Some residents also voiced concerns about low-income housing built on the site, which includes 26.5 acres of land.

That concern resurfaced Thursday at the zoning board meeting when one resident questioned what MorningStar plans to do with the 26.5 acres.

Attorney Nathaniel Washburn, who represented MorningStar, noted the property “has been this way for many decades,” with the acres beyond the building being “a large yard.”

MorningStar is restricted from adding adult housing without approval from the city by the terms of the special-use permit, which includes a condition prohibiting housing on the site.

The rejection of affordable housing on the site marked the second time in recent years that the city turned down a MorningStar plan for housing. In December 2020, the zoning board voted against a plan to convert a Larkin Avenue hotel into supportive housing for the homeless.

Perzee said MorningStar has no plans for the 26.5 acres and will be busy getting the youth programs started.