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Author: Chris Brown

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

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 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

Parent Mentor Convention Highlights Important Role Parents Play in Building Dream Schools

Parent Mentor Convention Highlights Important Role Parents Play in Building Dream Schools

IMG_8340On Friday, March 17th, more than 650 parents from across the state come together to celebrate their work, learn new skills, and hear from Sen. Tammy Duckworth.  As the convener of the Parent Mentor Program, SWOP staff and leaders planned and executed the event along with other staff and leaders from the 14 other Parent Mentor partner organizations. Led by Andrea Ortez, organizers Maggie Perales and Adriana Vasquez along with Parent Mentor coordinators Carolina Rivera, Mayra Sarabia, Eugenia Flores, and Tara Henderson spent hours identifying speakers and presenters, registering over 650 attendees and coordinating all the meaningful logistics.

The day started off with a rousing song from SWOP organizer Adriana Vasquez.KIMG1062  From there, participants heard testimonies from parent mentors about the impact of the program on their lives.  Two State Legislators, Theresa Mah and Jaime Andrade, were acknowledged for their support.  Parents then headed off to one of seventeen different workshops; covering everything from how to build a vision for your dream school to a Know Your Rights training on immigration law.  In the workshops the participants learned practical skills they can take back to their classrooms and use to help improve learning.  These skills include how to identify and address trauma, use body language and movement to improve learning, and use storytelling to help people understand the work.

PAMcon 2017-3329When the group reconvened, Sen. Tammy Duckworth provided a key note address.  She talked about her own experiences growing up and the importance of public education in helping her achieve all she has.  She called for the government to keep its commitment to public education and encouraged parents to keep fighting for better schools and communities.

Parents left the event energized and ready to head back to their schools and do more work to build their dream schools.  Watch a recording of the convention here.


Solidarity Soup Supports SWOP’s Work with Immigrants

Solidarity Soup Supports SWOP’s Work with Immigrants

On Tuesday, March 7th, a group of well known chefs came together to support work with the immigrant community by selling soup.  Led by Bruce Sherman of North Pond, the chefs produced and sold soup at four locations across the city and in Evanston.  Each person who placed an order received two pints of soup along with the good feeling that comes with knowing they were helping out people with immigration issues.

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), along with Centro Romero and the Immigrant Workers’ Project, were the three organizations selected to receive the proceeds from the sale of the soup.  SWOP will use the funding to support citizenship workshops, Know Your Rights trainings, and other activities aimed at supporting the immigrant community.

SWOP greatly appreciates the support of Solidarity Soup and the leadership of Bruce Sherman in undertaking this effort.

SWOP Wins Power of Community Award at CNDA

SWOP Wins Power of Community Award at CNDA

More than 1,500 people gathered at McCormick Place to see the Southwest Organizing Project win the Woods Fund of Chicago’s Power of Community Award.  The occasion was LISC Chicago’s Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA) 23rd annual ceremony.  SWOP won for its Reclaiming Southwest Chicago campaign; an effort to organize and rebuild a target area in the Chicago Lawn community.

For more than a decade, the area between 59th ST. and 63rd ST., Rockwell and California had been targeted by unscrupulous real estate agents and mortgage brokers; selling and financing homes to families who could not afford their payments.  At the same time, crime in the area increased and the schools struggled.  Four years ago, this combination lead to 93 vacant buildings in the area.

Leaders at SWOP were alarmed, but rather than just complain or move away, they took action.  Leaders came together to plan and then implement a strategy that would acquire and rehab houses, invest in the schools, intervene with anti-violence strategies, and build relationships in the community between people and between institutions.

The results are award winning.  Today, there are just 21 vacant buildings in the community and this number should be reduced to zero by this time next year.  Crime has been cut in half.  The schools have shown continual improvement, and the institutions in the community are stronger by any measure.

To achieve this, SWOP worked with its member institutions like Neighborhood Housing Services, Morrill School, Greater Southwest Development Corporation, IMAN, and St. Rita’s Church.

An important part of the work was building partnerships with organizations outside the community.  United Power for Action and Justice and SWOP worked together to bring in funding from the State and City.  Brinshore Development formed a joint venture with SWOP to acquire and rehab houses in the community.

At a site visit in October, SWOP leaders outlined for the CNDA judges how the community came together to fight back.  They talked about how they worked with a wide variety of people and organizations; people from different faith institutions, who spoke different languages, and from different backgrounds, who all shared a common goal to make the community stronger.  The presentation and the work was obviously enough to sway the judges.

See video here.


Bringing Furniture and More to Chicago Lawn

Bringing Furniture and More to Chicago Lawn

A little more than a year ago, Rafi Peterson and Mary Beth Herr sat down for a one on one meeting in the basement of St. Rita’s Church on 63rd ST.  Fr. Tony Pizzo hosted them as part of a United Power for Action and Justice meeting that brought them together as a way to build relationships and power between city and suburban dwellers.  At first, it might not seem like they had much in common, but through their conversation, it became clear that they shared a passion for social justice, community organizing, and collective action.

IMG_8261 In their meeting, Rafi talked about the trouble he had getting jobs for people recently released from prison.  Mary Beth was running a consignment furniture store on the north side with unsold inventory.  Over the course of several conversations, they hit on the idea of opening a furniture store in Chicago Lawn that might address community issues.

Today, the Storefront On 63rd ST. is up and running.  Using furniture provided by Coyle and Herr, the furniture store provides job opportunities for community residents, creates opportunities for African-American and Latino families to come together, fills a vacant store front on 63rd ST., and provide high-quality, low cost furniture and other household items to families in the community.

The Storefront was made possible because several people pitched in to make it work.  Mary Beth and her son Sam Brandstrader volunteer lots of hours identifying sources of furniture,IMG_8259 setting up a pricing strategy, and training staff.  The law firm Kirkland and Ellis provided pro bono legal services through The Law Project to help incorporate the Storefront.  Greater Southwest Development Corporation provided the storefront space; at no cost.
Rafi Peterson did most of the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively, in getting the store up and running.  He moved the furniture in, identified the people to work in the store, and oversaw the rehab of the storefront.

The store will be open every other weekend.  The next weekend the store will be open is February 24-26.


SWOP Partners to Provide ESL Classes

SWOP Partners to Provide ESL Classes

SWOP is again partnering with Gage Park High School and Instituto del Progreso Latino to provide English as a Second Language classes for community residents.  The free classes begin on Monday, March 6th.

To participate, you need to register and take a placement test.  Registration will take place on Tuesday, February 28th from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. at Gage Park High School, 5630 S. Rockwell, room 218.  Be sure to bring an id and proof of address.  Participants will also need to take a placement test that day.

If you have questions, please contact Maggie Perales at 773-471-8208 ext. 118 or