Why I came to work at SWOP
A Blog Post by Chris Brown
Recently, I have had more than one reason to reflect on why I came to work at SWOP. After being around, but not directly doing community organizing for the past 20 years, I decided I needed to go back to working for an organization deeply rooted in a place.
I left a really great job at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago after having been there for almost a decade. I feel like I did good work there, running a program that invested about $50 million in five schools to help young people and their families prepare for a different and better life. But I was always an intermediary there; always one step removed from the real work in schools and communities.
I’ve been a believer in the power of community organizing since my days with ACORN back in the 1980’s and 90’s. I knocked on a lot of doors back then and really saw first hand what can happen when you work with folks to build their capacity to lead, tackle issues of concern, and implement real plans for change. I further saw the importance of community organizing work in other jobs; as a funder, a supporter, a researcher, and an advocate.
But many of us see the importance of things without having to make it our job. I see the importance of saving the whales, but I don’t go out on boats to stop whale hunting.
Working at LISC was great. I’d like to think that I learned a lot and maybe contributed something to the organization and its partners. But after a while, I felt something was missing. That something was the ability to work directly with people impacted by the issues affecting our communities, city, state, and nation. I wanted to be at a place that was building leadership and power; and was talking explicitly about these issues. I knew SWOP well from many different vantage points and knew that they were doing some of the best organizing work in Chicago and in the country.
In thinking about next steps for myself, I did a bunch of one on one meetings to help me think about what to do. During one of these meetings, Jeff Bartow asked me what I wanted to do with myself. I took a chance and said that I’d love to be his operations person. I said this because I loved the work SWOP was doing, but knew that the organizers were bogged down dealing with organizational issues rather than organizing issues. I also knew that I had some talents to bring to this work and that I could learn a lot from working at SWOP (both about organizing and operations). Turns out Jeff was interested and willing to take a chance on me.
I’m thankful for that. It’s good to be back doing organizing. I like the people I work with, but more important, I respect the work they do and I’m learning a lot from it.
These days I think organizing is more important than ever. We need to build power for communities. We need community leaders who can educate political and policy leaders from first hand experience. We need real plans and implementation strategies that makes places better, not just talk about making them better. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of this work.
A Blog Post by Jamillah Rashad
Recently, I was sitting at the table with my three year old daughter, coloring and doing activities in her Mickey Mouse book. We got to a page where we would connect the dots, but I was more excited than she was. I realized to a toddler she did not understand the concept to connecting the dots. So I grabbed her hand and guided her from the number 1 to 18, while she counted out loud. When we were done, she yelled, “Mickey Mouse!” She did not realize that the links would create a bigger picture for her. On a larger scale this is the same strategy we take with the Elev8 program at Marquette School of Excellence – connecting our families to resources to help them build a more powerful picture for life.
When opportunities arise to explain the Elev8 program, I have the same elevator pitch:
Elev8 is a community school initiative that takes a holistic approach to pairing our students and their families to resources that ensure they are able to lead a successful life. Our goal is to connect our students to medical and dental services; provide enrichment programs for both the students and parents, offer leadership development opportunities that empower them to advocate for themselves and our community for positive change.
Although this description gives a brief look at the Elev8 program it does not capture the true essence of what we do at Marquette School of Excellence. During the 2015-2016 school year, Elev8 connected with a total of 877 participants that received services in one capacity or another. Medical compliance reached 99.92% – 1237 out of 1238 students were up to date on their immunizations and physicals. All students were screened for preventative dental services, which led to some of the students being recommended for restorative dental care. Our Health Resources Coordinator, Shamika Woods, was able to connect 45 students to free restorative care through our monthly Advocate dental van service. Also, she worked in collaboration with our school based health center, Esperanza, to link students to behavioral health services. Additionally, we offered a variety of after school programs for our students and a couple of activities for parents on Saturdays. One of the highlights of the year was our Bridge the Gap event planned and hosted by our Mikva Challenge students (youth advocates for the school and community).
The renowned educator, Rita Pierson said, “Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” Since 2008, Elev8 has worked to build a community of champions that motivate and equip all our participants with the assets to achieve greatness. As our internal and external connections continue to grow, we envision a stronger collaborative community school.