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Author: Chris Brown

Mayra Sarabia: Inspiring Change in Our Community

Mayra Sarabia: Inspiring Change in Our Community

For some people, every day is just living out a routine, but for Mayra Sarabia, every day is beautiful. She tells us, “Life is beautiful, I’m alive and I can do a lot of things. I’m blessed to be able to open my eyes. For a lot of people, it’s routine, but for me [each day] is an opportunity.” Mayra Sarabia, who has been a SWOP leader for the past 12 years and is currently a member of the SWOP Strategy Team, is not your average leader. She looks for the most out of life and out of every opportunity to make a difference not just at SWOP, but everywhere she goes.

She was first motivated to get involved with SWOP when her children were attending Eberhart Elementary School. She knew she wanted to be more immersed in her kids’ lives and found a way to do so through serving as a Parent Mentor. She also participated in different campaigns, like TVDL (Temporary Valid Driver’s License) and numerous immigration actions. During Mayra’s process of learning and growing she was given the opportunity to be the Parent Mentor coordinator at Eberhart. A year later she became part of the PEI, otherwise known as the “Parent Engagement Institute,” and a leader in the administration of the Parent Mentor Program. Mayra is currently a Parent Mentor trainer and organizer. Although her primary role with SWOP presently has been overseeing the Parent Mentor Program statewide, what she loves the most about SWOP is the chance to connect with other amazing and unique people on a daily basis.

Outside of SWOP, Mayra is a proud mother, of three adult children, and a proud grandmother. She is originally from Michoacán, Mexico and has been residing in Chicago for the past 26 years. She loves to honor her heritage and follow in the footsteps of her ancestors by being in touch with nature and learning more about herbal remedies. One day, Mayra would even love to live “off the grid” somewhere in Southern Mexico or Central America.

She is inspired to continue her work with SWOP and in her community because she has the power to transform lives. Mayra shares that “I enjoy doing [this work] because I see the change in people.” Being a parent herself, Mayra understands the importance of giving parents opportunities to contribute and be more engaged in their own neighborhoods and community schools.

Mayra is not only a leader in SWOP, she is a leader in other efforts as well. She completed a 40-hour domestic violence training in 2014 because she is passionate about empowering women to take control of their own lives and destinies. She loves to keep learning and is even currently learning how to make jewelry out of precious metals. Mayra is most inspired by Assata Shakur, the co-creator of the Black Panthers, who displayed strength and passion. Mayra shares that Shakur is “firme con sus valores,” or in English, “strong in her values.”  If she could share anything else with SWOP readers, leaders, and organizers it would be her personal mission to “make women aware of how marvelous they are, that they can give life and create.”

To learn about Mayra’s work with the parent mentor program and her passion for life, Mayra can be contacted at msarabia@swopchicago.org

Senior Staff Profile: Rafi Peterson

Senior Staff Profile: Rafi Peterson

Rafi Peterson, a long-term SWOP staff and community leader, has roots that run deep in Chicago Lawn. Rafi’s initial connection to Chicago Lawn was through the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN), where he served as a board member for many years, starting in 1998. Rafi knew that he wanted to see a change in his neighborhood and begun conversations with community members and in particular youth. He started working within the CeaseFire program, now known as Cure Violence, with the University of Illinois in 2001. In 2007 CeaseFire linked with SWOP, and Rafi’s efforts joined with SWOP efforts to reduce violence in the community.

CeaseFire’s goal is the same as Rafi’s goal: to see an end to the shooting on the streets. Rafi works with a team of individuals who meet each night to discuss current issues on the blocks and intervene where needed with a physical presence on the streets. The easeFire team works quickly after a shooting to de-escalate tensions by going to hospitals to speak with victims and reduce retaliation between rival groups immediately after the event.

Rafi’s vision for CeaseFire is a vision that he holds not just for himself and his community, but it’s also for his family and friends. If you ask Rafi why he continues to play a large part in anti-violence work in the south side, Rafi will tell you that it’s for his family, his sister, his grandkids, his friends, and his neighborhood. Throughout the time that Rafi has been with CeaseFire he has also spoken at anti-violence conferences internationally. He has even brought individuals from other countries to Chicago Lawn to learn about what happens here on our streets and what can be done to interrupt the cycle of violence globally. 

One of Rafi’s greatest concerns is the lack of space for youth to gather, that is- except for gangs and other street organizations. Rafi states, “if you want to turn the youth away from gang activity, then you must have something to turn them toward.” He notes that it has been over 10 years since this neighborhood has had a single youth center. His current efforts within CeaseFire focus on continuing the work to decrease the shooting but also focus on increasing job opportunities for young people and returning citizens from correctional facilities. This includes an effort to develop a school to work pipeline. 

Although Rafi’s accomplishments extend far beyond Chicago’s boundaries, what he is most proud of is that shooting is down approximately 60% since he started working in Chicago Lawn with CeaseFire. You can often find Rafi in a store-front on 63rd St. where he meets with young people weekly and continues to dig into the heart of the violence issues with the people it affects the most. If you are interested in getting more involved with anti-violence efforts in the community Rafi can be contacted at: rpeterson@swopchicago.org.

SWOP’s Citizenship Campaign: Lending a Hand to Our Neighborhood Families

SWOP’s Citizenship Campaign: Lending a Hand to Our Neighborhood Families

SWOP has an ongoing citizenship campaign to protect our immigrant families and to build power within our community by informing and accompanying legal permanent residents on their path to become citizens. This year, SWOP is collaborating with six other organization including Instituto del Progreso Latino, Latino Organization of the Southwest, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and Casa Michoacan to bring monthly citizenship workshop events to the neighborhoods of Chicago. This effort is funded by the State of Illinois’ New American’s Initiative, supported by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Since August, SWOP has offered five workshops and has served an average of 40 people per workshop. Throughout this time, SWOP has connected with over 200 community members who are interested in becoming citizens. Some of these individuals are at the stage of learning about the process, others are already receiving classes, studying for the test, or have already come to a workshop where they were helped to start their application process.

Over the years SWOP has helped hundreds of people to begin the process of becoming U.S. citizens. At this time SWOP has 25 volunteers and staff that assist at the workshops. SWOP is always looking for new volunteers to be able to help more people in our community. Some volunteers started by going through the process themselves; moving from participating as hopeful soon-to-be citizens, to now supporting others who still need to go through the process. If you are interested in volunteering at a citizenship workshop or have questions about how to begin your pathway to citizenship, please contact Adriana Velazquez at 773-471-8208 ext. 113, or at avelazquez@swopchicago.org.

SWOP Celebrates the Holidays

SWOP Celebrates the Holidays

More than 250 people representing SWOP’s 38 member institutions came together on December 13th to celebrate the holidays.  They met in the cafeteria at Maria Catalyst School where they shared food and conversation and appreciation for all the work they had done together over the past year.

Sister Margaret from the Sisters of St. Casimir kicked off the event with a prayer and Adriana Velazquez of the SWOP staff followed with an overview of the year’s accomplishments.  Natalia Robles discussed her families work with SWOP.  Jeff Bartow, SWOP’s executive director, then closed out the brief program with his assessment of the state of the organization.

Everyone then headed to the food line.  Attendees shared a wide array of delicious items; everything from rice and beans to chicken and pizza to cake and cookies.  All the food came from SWOP leaders and member institutions who donated to the pot-luck meal.

During the meal, everyone met new friends, continued old conversations, took pictures, and drew pictures.  There was even a special appearance from the Grinch who brought lots of laughs from the crowd.  At the end of the night, everyone went home satisfied, both with the party and the work of SWOP over the past year.

Building a Southwest System of Care

Building a Southwest System of Care

Understanding that there is a great need for behavioral health services in the community, SWOP is beginning implementation of the Southwest System of Care (SWSOC).  With support from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation and in partnership with Holy Cross Hospital, Ada S. McKinley, Catholic Charities, Esperanza Health Centers, IMAN, and Metropolitan Family Services, SWOP has begun to use a community organizing model of relationship building to bring together these institutions with local schools.  The goal of this work is to build a system that integrates service delivery for young people and their families and helps them build on their assets and address their needs.

We are currently in the planning phase of this work.  We have convened all partners and identified common intended outcomes.  Most recently, we worked together to identify logical ways to measure our progress.  The next step is to solidify the schools with whom we will work and begin to understand the specific contexts of those schools.  We aim to begin implementation in February 2019 after young people return to school for the start of a new semester.  For more information on SWSOC, please contact Jessica Biggs at jbiggs@swopchicago.org.

Chase volunteers and Chicago Cares help Reclaim Southwest Chicago

Chase volunteers and Chicago Cares help Reclaim Southwest Chicago

On Friday, November 2nd, 20 employees from JPMorgan Chase came to Southwest Chicago for a hands on service day.  The employees, some of whom live in the community, work all over the Chicagoland area and were looking for an opportunity to give back to the community.  They spent time in the 6400 block of south Maplewood working to clean out debris from one building to get it ready for rehab and to help with construction related tasks at another building.  Harry Meyer and the construction team from Brinshore selected work projects that will help speed up the development of affordable housing in the community.

 

After spending more than two hours filling up two dumpsters, they headed back to the SWOP office for lunch and to learn more about the organization.  Jeff Bartow, SWOP’s executive director, provided a history of SWOP and the organization’s current campaigns.  Then all the participants paired up with SWOP staff and leaders to conduct one to one meetings, allowing for deeper relationship building between all the participants.  To end the day, everyone went on a walking tour of the community to see the impact of the Reclaiming Campaign.

 

This service day was coordinated and supported by Chicago Cares, which works with business partners and community organizations to create service opportunities.  Another service day will be held with Chase employees on December 4th.  For more information, contact Harry Meyer at hmeyer@swopchicago.org

SWOP’s New Adler Data Intern

SWOP’s New Adler Data Intern

SWOP is pleased to welcome Robbi Wiggins as the new Adler University Data Intern.  Robbi lives in the community and is a graduate of Ball State University.  In her role as Data Intern, she will be collecting and analyzing data on participation in SWOP events, helping with the regular housing vacancy survey for the Reclaiming Campaign, and researching data on neighborhood improvement.  Robbi is interested in working in the area of juvenile justice when she graduates from Adler.  This is the third year in a row that Adler students have helped SWOP better use data to improve the organization’s work.  Please welcome Robbi to SWOP.

Staff Changes at SWOP

Staff Changes at SWOP

It’s in with the old (or at least familiar) and in with the new at SWOP these days.  Joel Rodriguez rejoins SWOP after being away for a couple of years.  While away from SWOP, he was working on community engagement at Gage Park High School.  Joel will lead SWOP’s youth leadership development work.  

Amanda Reilly joins SWOP as a new organizer.  She comes to SWOP from Pennsylvania where she worked as a social worker.  Amanda is working on the Reclaiming and Southwest System of Care campaigns.

LaDarius Beal is also a new organizer at SWOP.  LaDarius is a pastor in the Church of God in Christ.  He will be working on GOTV efforts and the Southwest Corridor Collaborative.

And last, but not least, Monse Ayala joins SWOP as an organizer.  She comes to SWOP from Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council where she ran the Hoops in the Hood program.  Monse is working with parents and Talman Elementary School and on GOTV efforts.

Please welcome all of these folks to SWOP.

Nightingale Workshop

Nightingale Workshop

By Ana Laura Narro

Last Wednesday, October 17, Nightingale Parent Mentors had a workshop for “Parents of Children with Special Needs” by the Parents4Teachers group open to the community. In this workshop attendees learned about their rights as parents and how to advocate for their children who have special needs. The workshop was attended by around 50 people, among whom were parents from other schools such as Edwards and Hurley. At the end of the workshop, 4 mothers had individual consultations with lawyer Amarillis De León, specialist in Special Education.

SWOP Wins Sustainable Community Schools Funding For Morrill

SWOP Wins Sustainable Community Schools Funding For Morrill

SWOP recently received word from the Chicago Public Schools that it will be a recipient of Sustainable Community Schools funding for its work at Morrill Elementary School.  SWOP staff people Jasmine Serrano and Joel Rodriguez are partnering with Principal Dawn Sydnor-Cole to implement expanded and new out-of-school time programming at the school.

Parents, school staff, partners from Metropolitan Family Services (MFS), and SWOP staff are spending the week of August 20th in training provided by CPS.  At the end of the training, this team and others will make decisions about the specific programs to be implemented over the coming year.  All the new work will build on SWOP’s Teen REACH, Parent Mentor Program, and Southwest System of Care as well MFS’s Community Schools Initiative programing.  The team hopes to add additional after-school options for early grades and middle school students, support for behavioral health services, and mentorship for young people.

For more information on SWOP’s Sustainable Community Schools program, contact Jasmine Serrano at jserrano@swopchicago.org or 773-471-8208 ext. 125 or Joel Rodriguez at jrodriguez@swopchicago.org or ext. 112.