More than 500 community residents and stakeholders gathered on Thursday, May 25th at St. Adrian Church to kick off the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Fundraising Campaign. The event, led by SWOP and United Power leaders, celebrated the past success of the initial phase of the Reclaim campaign and laid out the plans and goals for future work.
The meeting started with Fr. Tom from St. Adrian and Fr. Tony from St. Rita welcoming the group and leading a prayer for the community. Betty Gutierrez, long-time SWOP leader and NHS Chicago Lawn board chair, let the group know the purpose of the meeting. “We are here, with our allies from United Power, to celebrate the accomplishments of our Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign, and to start the second phase of this work, as we kick off a fund raising campaign to complete the work of Reclaiming Southwest Chicago,“ said Betty. She added, “We believe this campaign can be a model for what must happen, if we as Chicagoans are to rebuild other parts of our city seeking decent housing, good schools, and safe streets.“
Nick Brunick, a United Power leader, discussed the successes of the first phase of the Reclaiming Campaign. In the original 20-block target area, SWOP and United Power for Action and Justice raised approximately $8 million in funding and leveraged that funding into more than $15 million worth of investment in the neighborhood. Through a joint venture partnership, SWOP and Brinshore Development acquired and are rehabbing 15 formerly vacant buildings that will provide 50 newly-rehabbed homes and apartments for local residents. In addition, SWOP has organized local contractors, who have acquired and rehabbed smaller vacant properties on the same blocks – leading to the rehab of over 20 more properties consisting of 55 more homes and apartments.
As a result of this initiative, property values are up; foreclosures are down; the crime rate has been cut by 53%; the local schools are dramatically improved, and the number of vacant properties in the initial target area has decreased from over 93 in 2012 to only 21 in August of 2016. By the end of 2017, SWOP’s goal is for no vacant properties to remain between Rockwell and California and between 63rd and 59th Streets. “The successes of the Reclaim campaign show us how a committed group of leaders and institutions can come together, work holistically, and make a difference in the lives of families in a community,” said Nick Brunick, a leader with United Power for Action and Justice. “We are looking to spread the success of Reclaim to other communities in Chicago.”
SWOP leaders then provided testimony on the impact of the Reclaiming campaign on their work. Keana Lindo told the story of how she was forced out of the neighborhood, but through Reclaiming was recently able to move back into a newly rehabbed home. Rashad Talley talked about the important impact of Reclaiming on Morrill School where he is principal. Hassan Smith, a local contractor, talked about the support he received in investing in the community. And Mayra Sarabia spoke about the Reclaim campaign’s effort to include all people, regardless of documentation status in the work to improve the community. She reminded those present that the campaign is not simply about housing. “It is about people connecting with each other to find common enough ground to organize for strong schools, peaceful neighborhoods, and, yes, good affordable housing.”
After a lively break to give people a chance to build relationships with others at the meeting, Rafi Peterson spoke to the group about the importance of the campaign starting with the people in room. He said SWOP is challenging 1,000 families to give $20 each to show the depth of support for the Reclaim effort. He then pulled out a donation envelope and made the first $20 contribution to the campaign himself. By the end of the evening, he had been followed by over 100 other families who also made contributions to the campaign. Four anonymous donors matched each dollar given to the campaign that evening.
To wrap up the event, Jake Ament of LISC Chicago announced LISC’s commitment of $1,000,000 to the effort. This was met with cheering and a standing ovation from all the participants. LISC has been a long-time supporter of SWOP and the Reclaim campaign and has been impressed with the work to date.
As the meeting wrapped up, many in attendance expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together to meet other community members, celebrate successes, and outline commitments for the future. Everyone also understood this was the first step in a long campaign to reclaim another part of the community. While this may have been daunting to others, it was very exciting to those at the event.