A huge crowd turned out for the grand opening of Project 43 Team Post Center on 68th Street and Crenshaw Blvd in South Los Angeles. The event, held July 10, offered food, music and opportunities for the surrounding neighborhood and local businesses.

Project 43 is actually a community center and business incubator complex that provides a variety of programs for children, youth and adults. The nonprofit group operates a food pantry, community garden, vendor areas, podcast program and more.

Also, the building contains an open-air plaza, a large hall outfitted with food bars and a DJ area, and tech-ready office space to hold both small and large meetings, all available for rent.  So, how did Project 43 develop deep in the ‘hood?

The enterprise is the vision of Amerylus “Ann” Cooper. Affectionately called “Ms. Ann” by her volunteers and supporters, she had a deep desire to make a positive contribution and a tangible difference in her community.  So, using her own funds, she launched Project 43 Team Post Center.

“Through Project 43, I want to empower and support underserved communities by engaging people in a dignified way that encourages everyone to better themselves, their lives and their neighborhoods,” said Cooper.

Before allotting 14-months to renovate the building into the center, Cooper recalled, “This place was horrible, but I saw what this could be.  I knew that we could be amazing here at 6841 Crenshaw Blvd. and change lives,” she insisted. “So, I’m introducing this to the community so people can see how far we’ve come and how far we can go with a little help.”

During the grand opening, vendors filled the front plaza displaying wares such as jewelry, clothing and plants.  Attendees enjoyed music courtesy of MC Keishacali, DJ Battlecat and Preston Harris of 102.5 radio station and Chef Danni B. Cooks presented tasty samples and signed up prospects for her cooking classes.

“Danni is the director of our Culinary Arts program, but she’s also a caterer and will run her business at Project 43,” explained Cooper.  “I want to make sure that our young people have an opportunity to follow their dreams. So, as she teaches the lesson, she can take students with her to do the catering jobs.”

La Tijera Avery, another young business owner, manages her natural juice bar at the Project 43 center. She and Jennifer Criddle determined that they would “pay it forward and push positive health” among community members.

To help vendors or local businesses publicize their services, Gustyn Cook directs the center’s Podcast Program. “Basically, it’s an outlet for small businesses in the community to showcase what their business is about. We can create partnerships to sell their products or donate or whatever they want to do for the community,” Cook said.

While the business potential is exciting, equally impressive are the outreach efforts sponsored by Project 43, which are designed to aid homeless individuals and families. In addition to the pantry that gives out food twice a month, the center distributes hot meals, hygiene kits, backpacks and non-perishable goods to people in need.

Janee Williams oversees the outreach program, which also includes a healing circle that presents “spiritual wellness activities for men, women and children in the community,” she said. “ I choose to be a part of the healing circle because I was a victim of every aspect of abuse growing up as a teen. Now, I want to give back, especially to young women, because I have a story to tell.”

As for the future, Cooper has plans to offer even more free activities.  Space has been designated to host a library with computer stations (“We already have 1,000 book donated,” Cooper said with a big smile,) a studio to record music as well as oral histories (“I have an 89-year-old lady who grows cotton in her backyard. I want to bring people in like that,” declared Cooper), and financial literacy classes for all ages.

A big vacant lot, which exists at the rear of the center, is where Cooper hopes to build a movie theater, skating rink and big stage. She also wants to offer an e-sports and education curriculum. But to fulfill all of these plans, she hopes to entice others to make financial contributions.

Project 43 has several fundraising sponsorships that enable the public to assist. The Next Lap Marathon is a $25-per-month pledge, the Half Lap Marathon is $10-per-month donation and there is the $5 Wednesday weekly contribution.

“I’m begging people to be sponsors. It’s about what we can do for our community,” Cooper said. “These young people are our future and these are the people we need to bring up. We can go really far with a little help!”

Project 43 Team Post Center is open Saturdays through Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information or to donate, visit project43teampostcenter.org.