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Author: Chris Brown

Building A Vision for Gage Park High School

Building A Vision for Gage Park High School

IMG_8862A group of SWOP leaders, along with staff from Gage Park High School and partners gathered in the school cafeteria on Tuesday, July 18th for the first of two planning sessions.  The goal of the first session was to develop a vision of a successful Gage Park High School.  The goal of the second session, to be held on August 15th, is to develop the action plan to bring that vision to fruition.

The group began with a discussion on what everyone knew about Gage Park.  Answers ranged from “it has a rich history” to “Gage is working hard at creating a space that is safe and open to social emotional learning” to “Gage used to have almost 1,000 students.”

IMG_8864Next, the group spent time working individually and collectively to identify a vision that everyone can support.  Through their discussions, the group identified eight big areas where they had visions of success for Gage Park.  The big areas of the vision are: Academic Success, Post-secondary Success, Built Environment, Community School, Safe Space, Full Capacity, Model for Schools That Need Reform, and Student Centric.  Within each of these categories, the group came up with one to ten specific vision statements on what success will look like at Gage Park.  Specific vision statements included: “Robust teacher professional development” and “Health center at GPHS” and “600-800 enrollment.”

If you are interested in participating in the next planning session, please contact Jamillah Rashad at jrashad@swopchicago.org.

After a Great Run at SWOP, Andrea Ortez Moves On.

After a Great Run at SWOP, Andrea Ortez Moves On.

aSWOP Staff-Andrea Ortez-2671Andrea Ortez, most recently leading SWOP’s Parent Mentor Program, is leaving to take on education work in the south suburbs.  Andrea came to SWOP in 2008 as a Loyola student looking to make a difference in a community.  She definitely accomplished that goal.  Over her years at SWOP, she worked on Teen REACH, VOYCE, Reclaiming Southwest Chicago, community safety, and the Parent Mentor Program.  Andrea brought life and fun, and occasional baked goods, to the SWOP office.  She will be missed and we wish her well.

Jamillah Rashad will be managing the Parent Mentor Program this summer.  Please contact her at jrashad@swopchicago.org with any questions.

Ready to Become a U.S. Citizen?  SWOP can help!

Ready to Become a U.S. Citizen?  SWOP can help!

On Monday, July 17th, SWOP will host our next U.S. Citizenship workshop.  SWOP staff and volunteers, working with staff from Instituto del Progresso del Latino, can help you complete your paperwork and file your application for citizenship. With funding from the State of Illinois’ New Americans Initiative and IDHS, SWOP has co-led five different workshops over the past six months where over 450 people were helped to fill out their citizenship application.

You must have an appointment to participate.  Please contact Adriana Velazquez at 773-471-8208 ext. 113 or avelazquez@swopchicago.org to find out the paperwork you will need to bring with you and to schedule a time to come in.  Please don’t miss out on this opportunity.

Already a citizen?  SWOP can use your help at the workshop.  We need volunteers to help greet applicants, make copies, translate, and to help fill out forms. Training for application volunteers will be provided 7/14/17 at 10 a.m. here at the SWOP office! Contact Adriana before Thursday July 13th if you can volunteer at the workshop on the 17th.

It’s Summer Time, Let The Fun Begin

It’s Summer Time, Let The Fun Begin

July and August will be busy times for young people and their families in Chicago Southwest.  That’s because SWOP will be hosting a number of safe and fun activities throughout the community.

Starting July 11th, SWOP will kick off a weekly series of Hoop in the Hoods tournaments at Morrill Elementary and Gage Park High School.  At Hoops, teams of young people from the community will learn basketball and teamwork skills as they compete against each other and prepare for the big Hoops Citywide tournament on August 19th.

Starting July 14th, SWOP kicks off PlayStreets activities across the community.  PlayStreets is a three hour “block party” giving families and community members the opportunity to get active, play sports and games, have fun, and be safe.

Both Hoops in the Hood and PlayStreets will have activities for the whole family.  Even if you don’t play basketball or other sports, come out and support local youth and join in the other fun stuff you can do at these events.  In addition to giving everyone a chance to play, both programs are employing young people to help run the events; giving them experience they need for their next job.

A big thank you to LISC Chicago, World Sports Chicago, and the Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities for their support of these programs.

To find our more information or to join in on the fun, please contact Jasmine at jserrano@swopchiacgo.org.

Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Fundraising Campaign Kicks Off

Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Fundraising Campaign Kicks Off

May 25 2017 event -3473More 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.

May 25 2017 event -3455The 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.“

May 25 2017 event -3686Nick 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.”

May 25 2017 event -3605SWOP 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.”

IMG_8561After 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.

May 25 2017 event -3676To 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.

Listen to the WBEZ story about the event here and read the Chicago Tonight story here.

SWOP Leaders Rally in the Rotunda

SWOP Leaders Rally in the Rotunda

IMG_8494Early on April 25th, 150 SWOP leaders boarded buses and travelled to Springfield to engage with elected officials.  While there, they spoke about the impact the Teen REACH program has on young people, how Parent Mentors are helping improve schools, and how we need to secure the rights and dignity of all people, including immigrants.

Keana Lindo spoke about how she lost her apartment when her landlord was foreclosed on.  She was able to move back to Chicago Lawn when the State supported SWOP’s Reclaim Southwest campaign to address housing abandonment.  Rep. Dan Burke congratulated SWOP leaders for their good work and wished them well in their future endeavors.

MNER6230After the speeches in the Rotunda of the Capital building, the leaders broke into well organized groups and headed off to meet with legislators.  In these small group interactions, leaders engaged elected officials in discussions about SWOP’s work, about the challenges ahead, and about plans SWOP has to address these challenges.  To wrap up the day, leaders viewed the Legislature in action from the gallery and then boarded buses back to Chicago.

The trip is emblematic of the work of SWOP.  Community organizing is about giving people the skills and opportunities to exercise their own power.  During this trip, parents, students, and community residents all had the opportunity to build their leadership skills by speaking on issues they cared about and to talk about solutions they themselves had helped develop.

Chicago Southwest Quality-of-Life Plan Maps Road to the Future

Chicago Southwest Quality-of-Life Plan Maps Road to the Future

When SWOP first brought together Chicago Southwest leaders in late 2015 to evaluate their old Quality-of-Life plan and start work on a new one, there was a lot of energy in the room. Leaders who had been involved in the planning more than a decade ago were excited that they had accomplished almost every single thing they had set out to do in the old plan. Newer leaders who were just beginning their first broad community planning process were excited to see how their current work can fit into and be enhanced through a larger community plan.

In spite of the success of the earlier plan, everyone knew that this didn’t mean their work was done; far from it.  They knew they had a strong base to build on, strong relationships, and a record of success, but they still had much to do in many different areas.

The new Quality-of-Life plan is a blueprint for action for the Chicago Southwest community.  The plan breaks the work down into seven major areas for investment of time, people, and money.  These areas of work are: housing, economic and retail development, jobs, anti-violence, education, immigration and health.  The plan’s title says it all in terms of how these issues will be addressed; Chicago Southwest: Organized, Connected and Collaborative.

Over 250 leaders representing almost 60 institutions worked for months to develop the plan; coming together on multiple occasions to identify priorities for the community.  Leaders worked in large and small groups and met all over the neighborhood.  They gathered data on current conditions in the community and met with residents to get their views on what needed to be done.  They drafted goals and outcomes and actions plans.  They worked to ensure that the plan reflected both the desires and the concerns of community residents and stakeholders.

This plan builds on the work of the original Chicago Southwest: Making Connections Quality-of-Life plan completed a decade ago.  The work of both plans were supported by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago as part of their New Communities Network.  SWOP acted as the lead agency for both plans; convening and leading meetings and working to produce the final product.

Now that the plan is complete, the real work starts to bring all the visions to fruition.  Already, lots of “early action” activities are underway.  SWOP is leading efforts on the Southwest Corridor Collaborative (SWCC) to bring jobs and retail development to the community.  Protected by Faith pulled together hundreds in support of immigrant rights.  The Reclaim Southwest Chicago Campaign and the Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP) are quadrupling their target areas to redevelop even more vacant houses.  The Parent Mentor Program has already expanded to four new schools.

A plan is just a plan until people come together to act on it.  For more information on the plan and how to get involved in implementation activities, please contact David McDowell at dmcdowell@swopchicago.org.

Become a citizen now or help someone to do so!

Become a citizen now or help someone to do so!

By Adriana Velazquez

Citizenship Article Picture 2017-03-11 Lourdes Aranda VolunteerOne of the many ways we can build power as a community and protect our families is to help eligible families become citizens.  SWOP is proud to be part of the New Americans Initiative which leads state wide outreach, education, and application processing citizenship efforts. So far, SWOP has led two citizenship workshops on the southwest side of Chicago and are already planning our next one!  The next workshop, where we hope to help over 100 Illinois residents to apply to become citizens, will take place Saturday April 29th, 2017 at Instituto del Progreso Latino (2520 S. Western Ave. Chicago IL, 60608). You must register in advance so please be sure to call the number below to register and to learn about the documents you will need to complete your application.

Citizenship Article Picture 2017-03-11 Rocio Estrada VolunteerSWOP and the Southside collaborative of organizations working to put these workshops together cannot make this happen without our strong team of volunteers who have stepped up from within the community to get trained and give their time each month to provide help to applicants trying to become citizens. The community is in need of this service and we are always looking for volunteers!

Please spread the word and contact Adriana Velazquez at 773-471-8208 ext. 113 or avelazquez@swopchicago.org for more information about the upcoming  workshops and how to help!

Elideth Hernandez profile

Elideth Hernandez profile

Marquette School of Excellence on the southwest side of Chicago is a school where a lot of things can go wrong.  The student body is low income, academically challenged, and split almost evenly between African-Americans and Latinos.  But Elideth Hernandez has worked hard to make sure things go right; both at the school and in the community.

Elideth, center.
Elideth, center.

Elideth, an immigrant herself, has fought to make Marquette a safe space for other immigrant families.  Long before the Chicago Public Schools announced they would turn back ICE agents without a warrant, Elideth was pushing, and winning, a plan with the school administration to ensure immigrants would be safe in the school.

In addition to her work on immigration, Elideth has been active on the school planning committee and fighting for more police accountability in the community.  She does this as a leader at the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) in the Chicago Lawn community.

At SWOP, Elideth is a Parent Mentor Coordinator at Marquette.  In this capacity, she recruits, trains, and supports parents (mostly moms) as they work as paraprofessionals in classrooms at the school.  She spends a lot of time in this role helping parents build their skills not only to help children, but to be leaders in the community; just like she is.  Because the school is split along racial and ethnic lines, Elideth has worked hard to bridge language and culture divides between the two communities.  She has been instrumental in recruiting and retaining an equal number of Parent Mentors from both communities.

In her Parent Mentor coordinator role, she’s always going the extra mile.  Volunteering for field trips, leading workshops, and advocating for important issues with the school administration.  She does this because she’s a parent, but also because she’s a leader.  Elideth knows that to win on any issue, the community has to come together and exercise its power.  Time and again, she’s demonstrated her leadership by bringing people together to identify issues and leading collective action to address them.IMG_8416

As if she wasn’t busy enough, Elideth is also the mother of four.  Two of her children attend Marquette, one is in high school, and the oldest is now attending college.  Elideth is a role model for her own kids and for all the kids in the community.

As SWOP organizer Jamillah Rashad says, “when I think Elideth, I think angel.”

A New Face and New Roles for SWOP

A New Face and New Roles for SWOP

aSWOP Staff-Joel Rodriguez -2588SWOP bids a fond farewell to Joel Rodriquez.  Joel spent several years doing great work with the VOYCE program at Gage Park High School.  So good in fact that the principal asked him to join the staff at the school.  Joel will be working with parents and students at the school and will be primarily focused on recruiting new students to Gage Park.  We look forward to working with Joel a lot in the future.

aSWOP Staff-Jamillah Rashad-2763Jamillah Rashad is leaving the Elev8 program at Marquette School of Excellence, but don’t worry, she’s not going far.  Jamillah will be taking over the VOYCE work at Gage Park where she can take the skills she’s learned by working with middle school students and apply them to high school students.  Jamillah is also playing a lead role in the Police Accountability work; serving on the city-wide steering committee.

Sierra Jones has joined SWOP’s staff as the new Elev8 Director.  Sierra spent the last three years working as an after-school provider through Elev8 at Marquette so she’s very familiar with the program.  Please welcome her to SWOP.SWOP website staff Sierra (1 of 1)-2