KLEO Center Transforms Chicago Neighborhood, Changes Kids' Lives

"Ever since I have been with the KLEO Center, I have been doing better things and getting my life better," Dajuan Bell said.

On the same ground where gangs once battled in an area known as "the hole," Chicago kids now can be seen playing basketball and getting dance lessons.

"It was once considered one of the worst places in the city," said Pastor Torrey Barrett, the founder of the KLEO Center, a community center that stands for "Keep Loving Each Other" and has become the heart of the Washington Park neighborhood.

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Barrett grew up in the neighborhood and started the center after his sister, Kleo, lost her life to violence. Her image watches over them in the form of a mural, and her name, he said, is their mission.

"I wanted to be able to say her name 100 times a day," Pastor Barrett said, "because it means 'keep loving each other,' so it's actually an acronym now.”

The KLEO Center connects kids with after-school programs, mentors and jobs.

"I feel love, appreciated," Asia Johnson-Shaw said. "I feel like I'm a part of the family.”

At work at a beautification project that's part of the One Summer Chicago program, Johnson-Shaw, a newcomer to the center, was excited to show what they have accomplished.

"If you live somewhere, and your community is lacking or there's trash everywhere, that reflects who you are," she said.

The KLEO Center is also changing lives from the inside out. For kids like Dajuan Bell, all the love has made all the difference.

"At the rate I was going I honestly thought I probably wasn’t going to make it to 21," Bell said, "but ever since I have been with the KLEO Center, I have been doing better things and getting my life better.”

The hope is to inspire other neighborhoods to do the same.

"Anyone should be inspired through the work that we do," Pastor Barrett said, "to just open up your space in your community and start serving people."

If you would like to find out more about the KLEO Center or find out how you can help or get your child involved, click here. To donate, click here.

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