AKRON, Ohio — Nearly two years ago, LeBron James welcomed the first student into the I Promise School in his hometown. Now, his foundation will be welcoming families into a newly renovated space that will provide safe and stable housing.
The LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) will soon welcome families into the new 'I PROMISE Village' by Graduate Hotels which will provide transitional housing for students and families.
"Knowing and listening to the needs of our families and our students is what has broadened our offerings and what we do," Michele Campbell, executive director of LJFF, said. "LeBron being such a supporter of everything that we're hearing and, you know, he is like, 'Whatever it is, we need to figure it out.'"
The historic Westmont apartment building was renovated to feature individual living units for students and their families who need a safe place to stay "as they work through challenges they may be facing, including homelessness, domestic violence and other unforeseen circumstances." Families will be able to stay at the Village, free of rent or utility payments, as they work towards a long-term goal.
Each year, around 2,000 students in the Akron Public School District experience homelessness, according to the district. Campbell wanted to learn more, spending time at a shelter to understand the struggles students face.
"I'll speak for myself: I didn't really understand," he said. "I took that for granted growing up. Being able to help some of our families that are in a time of need can make all the difference in the world, especially for a student learning in the classrooms. Knowing that they're going home and being able to sleep in a bed, being able to sleep in a secure building where they don't have to worry about their security, is so, so important for those students."
LaToya Taylor and her family will be among the first to move into the Village. The foundation captured her reaction when she was given a "sneak peek" inside the apartment.
“We lived in a lot of different homes where landlords don’t keep their homes up and all they want to do is collect the rent,” said Taylor in an interview with WKYC. “It’s a bad living environment, bad neighborhood.”
Taylor said moving into the Village would provide a safe space for her kids to play and learn, something that was difficult at their previous home.
“If he wants to go ride his bike in the neighborhood, he doesn’t have to worry about people in the neighborhood," said Taylor. "He doesn’t have to worry about not taking his little sister outside to go play, because right now where we’re living, he can’t even do that.”
The housing unit is located within a few blocks of the I Promise School (IPS) in Akron. The Village sits on the same side of IPS which Campbell said will allow students to walk to school without crossing a main street.
The I PROMISE Village, which has 18 units available for families, will also provide learning opportunities and resources for families to help work through some challenges they may be facing.
"The village was is built upon the principles that we wear on our shirt: We are family," said Campbell. " We feel like getting through life, you need people around you. We all do at times. We all need people around us. So the Village is built around community. We have a lot of community spaces where we can come together and have community meals, we can have piano lessons, and we can play outside."
A community space will be made available to the families, along with a study space, an enclosed outdoor area, laundry rooms, and a community garden. The garden, in partnership with City Sprouts, will give families an opportunity to “learn how to harvest their own fruits and vegetables.” According to the foundation, the garden “yields more than 190 pounds of fresh produce for residents.”
The Village plans to offer programs and skill-based learning opportunities that touch on topics like financial literacy, healthy cooking, basic sewing, and home repair skills. LJFF also announced a skills institute, in partnership with AT&T, is planned where volunteers will serve as mentors for the residents.
Families are expected to begin moving into the Village this week.