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Author: Chris Brown

How Do You Reach Young People? With Teen REACH.

How Do You Reach Young People? With Teen REACH.

By Jasmine Serrano

Several years ago, SWOP was looking to expand its work with young people in schools. SWOP wanted to go beyond providing after-school programming to begin to build youth leaders for the community. That’s when SWOP discovered the Teen REACH program.

In Chicago Lawn, SWOP’s Teen REACH effort began at Fairfield Elementary in the 2008 – 2009 school year, and was moved to Morrill Elementary in the 2009 – 2010 school year; where it has remained ever since.  SWOP’s Teen REACH program has always been high performing, typically serving more young people than the grant budget calls for. This year, SWOP receives funding to serve 40 students, but has more than 50 in the program. Last year, without State funding, SWOP served 40 students using United Way funding. SWOP’s effort delivers quality mentorship that leads to improved grades, test scores, school attendance, involvement in the program, and mentor/mentee relationships that last into adulthood.

Teen REACH is a State funded after-school program that works with different non-profit providers across Illinois. Teen REACH provides after-school programs and mentorship opportunities to young people between the ages of 11 and 17 years old, with a focus on “at risk” youth. Young people who come from low-income families, single-parent households, have behavioral issues, and/or are academically underachieving have the indicators that make a young person a good candidate for Teen REACH. The goal is to improve the students’ “at risk” status.

What makes the Chicago Lawn program unique is its intent to give young people a voice and leadership in the program; allowing the participants to have a say in what they learn and do during the three hours after school when they are in the program. SWOP’s Teen REACH effort engages young people in a way that many of them would not have been able to experience otherwise. Teen REACHers have taken trips to Springfield, Illinois to contribute to policy changes. They have taken trips to the Mississippi Palisades on what was for many, their first camping trip. Engaging students’ curiosity and involvement in the program has always been a source of pride for the mentors that make Teen REACH happen every day.

For this school year, SWOP’s Teen REACH program has hired a new Program Coordinator, Jasmine Serrano. Jasmine lived in the community for more than ten years and worked with SWOP since she was a sophomore at Gage Park High School; the neighborhood high school. Now, at 23, she manages Teen REACH with the objective of getting young people ready for high school and beyond, and with the help of the rest of the Teen REACH staff and interns, she creates a safe space for young people to be themselves, learn, speak, and play.

What Do Hundreds of People Do When It’s Cold Outside: They Come to the SWOP Holiday Party

What Do Hundreds of People Do When It’s Cold Outside: They Come to the SWOP Holiday Party

Opening the party with a blessing...
Opening the party with a blessing…

While the temperatures outside were well below freezing, the mood was warm and happy inside Maria Catalyst High School on Thursday evening, December 15th.  Hundreds of SWOP leaders from community institutions across Chicago Southwest came together to celebrate the holidays.  There were lots of holidays and traditions to celebrate as the crowd represented the diversity of the community: Catholics and Protestants, Muslims, and Jews; African-Americans, Latinos, and whites; and, young people and more mature folks.

...from many faiths traditions.
…from many faith traditions.

Like most holiday parties, there was good food, holiday music, and a little bit of dancing.  People chatted with old friends and made new ones.  There were even a few people in ugly holiday sweaters.

What made this party different from others this season, and special for Chicago Southwest, is that the party was as much about the holidays as it was about community organizing.  The party gave people time to reflect on the hard work of the past year, the recent Presidential election, and all the SWOP victories of the past many months.  Executive Director Jeff Bartow used his remarks at the start of the party to point out the diversity and the strength of the group.  He highlighted some recent wins, but also spoke of the need to keep working and supporting each other in all our endeavors.  He encouraged people to seek out others they did not know and to begin the community organizing process of imagining how we all can work together to advance collective goals.

SWOP ED Jeff Bartow reflects on the work ahead.
SWOP ED Jeff Bartow reflects on the work ahead.

As people left the party, it was still cold outside, but people were filled with the warmth and energy that comes from making new connections and renewing old relationships.

Happy Holidays

Lining up for delicious food.
Lining up for delicious food.
SWOP Parent Mentors Are Making a Difference in Chicago Southwest Schools

SWOP Parent Mentors Are Making a Difference in Chicago Southwest Schools

Everyone in the field of education always talks about the need for more parent involvement in schools. SWOP is doing something about this with the Parent Mentor Program. Through this effort, SWOP recruits parents, mostly mothers, but there are some fathers, to work in classrooms in their children’s schools. The Parent Mentors work in a classroom (but not their own child’s room) for two hours a day, four days a week. On Friday, the fifth day, they spend time in training; learning skills from helping students improve their academic performance to tools for community organizing.

The Parent Mentors spend their time in the classroom working with individual children or small groups of students who are at risk of falling behind in their studies. Parent Mentor participation in the classroom allows teachers to provide guidance to the whole class, while ensuring that these students with more needs, don’t fall behind.

For the first half of this school year, SWOP has 138 parents working in 12 schools. Starting in January that number will go up by three more schools and approximately 20 more parents. While the program requires that parents put in 10 hours per week at the school, many go way beyond that volunteering more time in the classroom and participating in other school activities. For their work, parents receive a $500 stipend each semester after they work 100 hours in the classroom. In addition to their work in schools, participants in SWOP’s Parent Mentor Program are very active in immigration reform, community safety, and affordable housing campaigns in Chicago Southwest.

The Parent Mentor Program is funded by a grant from the State of Illinois. SWOP administers this grant for the state supporting Parent Mentor programs with 14 other organizations at 72 schools working with over 15,000 students daily.

The prograpic-of-estela-pm-in-classroomm is evaluated state-wide every year by professors from DePaul and Loyola Universities. So far the evaluators have seen consistent increases in the impact the program is having on the parents’ lives and the classrooms they work in.

A great example of a successful Parent Mentor is Estela Avalos. She works at Talman Elementary School in a 4th grade classroom helping students with math. Estela has been active in SWOP’s Get out the Vote and Police Accountability campaign in addition to her work as a Parent Mentor.

SWOP is hoping the program will be expanded next year so that more parents like Estela can participate in their child’s school.

SWOP Leads Police Accountability Discussion

SWOP Leads Police Accountability Discussion

img_7971More than 160 community residents packed the auditorium at Catholic Charities’ Sisters of St. Casimir Motherhouse on Tuesday, November 15th to talk about an important issue to the Chicago Southwest community; police accountability. Led by Imelda Salazar and Rafi Peterson, the group heard testimony, reviewed facts, and met with neighbors one on one to learn about each other. Most important, the large gathering broke into small groups to develop ideas for improving both police accountability and community/police relations.

The collection of people who spent an hour and a half working through suggestions for improved policing of the community, really represented the broad diversity of the Chicago Southwest community. The attendees were African-American, Latino, and white. They were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish. They were young and old. They spoke English and Spanish. While these differences could have pulled them apart, especially around a topic as contentious as police accountability, they were united in their belief that the City can do more to ensure police accountability and community responsibility.

img_7987Though each small group worked independently, starting only with the same questions, they each came up with very similar answers on how to improve police accountability and relationships with the community. These included: the need for more police officers to represent the community; less police in the community, especially in schools; better training for officers on interacting with community members; more mental health services for officers and residents; and, more opportunities for police to have positive interactions with community members.

This meeting was part of a larger, city-wide effort to give community members a real voice in the police accountability discussion. SWOP is part of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA). Supported by the Woods Fund of Chicago, with funding from major foundations across Chicago, GAPA is a collection of 11 community-based organizations working in 38 of the City’s 50 wards. Each group is convening a meeting similar to the one SWOP has held. The recommendations from these meetings will be collected into one large document and will be used by the groups to organize for better police accountability.

For more information on the police accountability work, please contact Jeff Bartow at jbartow@swopchicago.org.

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Now, More Than Ever, Organize

Now, More Than Ever, Organize

It is safe to say that almost everyone was surprised by the results of the Presidential Election on November 8th. To many in Chicago Southwest, that surprise was not a happy outcome. President-Elect Trump’s comments on immigration, crime, banking legislation, and many other issues are in direct conflict with the work of SWOP and its partners.

What to do about that? The answer is easy, don’t mourn, organize. In a time of increasing partisan rancor, name calling, and disdain for the “other,” the focus of SWOP’s organizing in building relationships and understanding between people and institutions is more important than ever. This isn’t a feel-good answer about how we all just have to know each other and get along. No, this is an answer about understanding self-interest and building power.

Political leaders of all stripes need to understand and support the important role that immigrants, young people, women, the working class, unions, and so many others play in making Chicago Southwest the vibrant place it is. It is the children of immigrants that fill the public schools. It is young people who are taking on social issues. It is women who are leading at many local institutions.

SWOP calls on the President-Elect to really learn about the issues he has spoken on over the course of the campaign. SWOP leaders want a leader who respects them and their contributions to the community, the city, and the country. SWOP leaders expect and demand to be treated with the respect they have earned with their hard work of improving the world around them.

SWOP hopes that after learning about these important issues, that important programs like DACA, ACA, and others will be kept in place. Not because these programs represent the work of one partisan side or the other, but because these programs have been good for people and good for this community. SWOP looks forward to the work ahead.

The Good News and Bad News About Foreclosures

The Good News and Bad News About Foreclosures

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The change is that foreclosures are down and down by a lot across the city. What has stayed the same is that Chicago Lawn still has a foreclosure rate twice that of the city as a whole.

A home of one’s own is an essential part of the American Dream. People owning houses and raising families in stable and secure homes makes a community a solid place to live. The loss of a home through foreclosure crushes dreams and makes a community like Chicago Southwest less stable.

At the height of the crisis in 2009 and 2010, the City of Chicago had three foreclosures for every 100 residential parcels. During that same period, Chicago Lawn had 6.7 and 6.4 per 100 residential properties respectively; 233% and 213% higher than the citywide average. Chicago Lawn actually reached it’s peak of foreclosures in 2008 with 7.5 foreclosures per 100 residential parcels – 259% higher than the citywide average. This is all according to data from DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies.

West Elsdon, during this same period, was at 4.4 foreclosures per 100 residential parcels or 147% of the citywide total. Ashburn, Gage Park, and West Lawn, were all between 140% and 203% of the city total.

The good news is that overall foreclosures are down. The foreclosure numbers in the city in 2015 are about a quarter to a third of what what they were in 2010. The bad news is that four of the five community areas that make up Chicago Southwest are still way above the citywide average.

In 2015, the citywide number of foreclosures was 0.9 per 100 residential parcels. Basically, that’s less than 1% of homes going into foreclosure that year. The number was exactly the same in West Elsdon. In Chicago Lawn, though, the number of foreclosures was 2.2 per 100 residential properties. That’s way down from 2010, but still 244% higher than the citywide average. The other communities in Chicago Southwest are 156% to 189% higher than the citywide average.

To combat this problem, SWOP continues to reach out to families facing foreclosure. Working with Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) and others, SWOP encourages families in the foreclosure process to seek help. NHS offers counseling and mediation services to help families prevent foreclosures. Again, while the neighborhood is not seeing the incredibly high numbers of foreclosures it saw in 2008 to 2010, there are still twice as many families facing the loss of their home in Chicago Southwest as there are in the city as a whole.

If you, or someone you know, has questions about preventing foreclosure, please contact David at dmcdowell@swopchicago.org or Adriana at avelazquez@swopchicago.org.

SWOP Partners to offer English as a Second Language Classes

SWOP Partners to offer English as a Second Language Classes

SWOP and Gage Park High School have partnered with Instituto Del Progresso Latino to offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The classes began on Monday, November 7th, but there is still plenty of room to join in. You can register for the class on Tuesday, November 15th from 10 – 11 a.m. at Gage Park High School, 5630 S. Rockwell, room 218.

When you come to register, you will need to bring identification with your current address and take a placement test. If you have any questions about the class or to get more information, please contact Maggie at mperales@swopchicago.org.

It’s Election Day, SWOP Wants You to Get Out and Vote

It’s Election Day, SWOP Wants You to Get Out and Vote

SWOP leaders and staff have been pounding the pavement and knocking on doors in advance of today’s election. No matter which side of an issue you’re on or which candidate you favor, today is an important day to make your choices known and to have a hand in picking the people you want to lead our city, state, and nation.

Focusing on an area bounded by 55th on the north, Marquette Road on the south, Western on the east, and Kedzie on the west, more than 45 leaders from 11 local schools have been out talking to their neighbors about the importance of voting.

The particular focus of this effort is to get people who don’t usually vote to go to the polls this year and cast a ballot. SWOP leaders have been visiting community members at their homes and calling them to ensure they know when and where to vote. Each resident was contacted at least once over the past couple of weeks and encouraged to vote. The goal is to reach each voter again on election day. Leaders report that passions about the election are running high and that more experienced (meaning older) voters are enthusiastic about getting young people out to vote.

For more information about SWOP’s Get Out the Vote work, please contact Adriana at avelazquez@swopchicago.org.

SWCC Kicks Off To Revitalize 63rd ST.

SWCC Kicks Off To Revitalize 63rd ST.

On a bright sunny morning on November 3rd, leaders from SWOP, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GADC), and Teamwork Englewood joined with LISC Chicago and Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago’s Mayor, to announce a new effort to revitalize commercial areas on Chicago’s Southwest side. Called the Southwest Corridor Collaborative (SWCC), the initiative will target specific retail/commercial nodes in Chicago Lawn, Englewood, and Auburn Gresham.

LISC Chicago has committed $50 million in loans and grants over the next 10 years to help SWOP and the other organizations bring retail opportunities and jobs back to the community. The City of Chicago and other partners are also committing resources to support the effort. The funding will support small and large business development and entrepreneurship and job training.

Jeff Bartow, SWOP executive director, speaks for the need for teamwork in rebuilding communities.
Jeff Bartow, SWOP executive director, speaks for the need for teamwork in rebuilding communities.

Ghian Foreman of Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC) will lead a planning effort in Chicago Lawn to decide where and how to focus the effort. This planning effort will kick off this month and will wrap up early next year.

For more information, please contact David McDowell at dmcdowell@swopchicago.org.

SWOP’s Reclaim Southwest Campaign Delivers More Affordable Housing to the Community

SWOP’s Reclaim Southwest Campaign Delivers More Affordable Housing to the Community

On Saturday, November 5th, SWOP and Brinshore Development will host a workshop to help families learn about affordable housing opportunities in Chicago Lawn. The workshop will take place at Morrill Math and Science Academy, 6011 S. Rockwell from 10 a.m. to noon.

Between December and the coming spring, SWOP and Brinshore will make 30 new units available in nine different buildings in the community. All the units will be newly rehabbed with all new appliances, state of the art energy efficient systems and other cost saving amenities. For those whose income qualifies, rent for a one bedroom will start at $350 per month.

At the workshop, you will learn how to apply for one of these apartments and can begin the actual application process. In addition, you can learn about tenants rights and the future of the Reclaim Southwest campaign.

To RSVP, please contact Harry Meyer at hmeyer@swopchicago.org.

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Elevations from the new SWOP/Brinshore development.