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Author: Chris Brown

Transforming Vacant Lot Into Community Park

Transforming Vacant Lot Into Community Park

A group of 6 youth and young adults in masks stand around a wooden sign which reads "60th N Campbell Garden."“Many folks volunteered themselves as stewards,” said SWOP organizer Jasmine Serrano. SWOP is partnering with NeighborSpace to purchase a vacant lot and transform the space into a community park at S. Campbell Ave. and W. 60th St.

The idea of creating another community park came from collaboration between youth from SWOP and Oak Park’s Ascension Parish. The intention is to create another safe place for people to hang out. Neighbors’ hopes for the park include vegetable gardens and a play space for kids.

The design of the park hasn’t really been finalized at all,” said Jasmine. It is critical to collaborate with youth and neighbors because, “without input from more community folks, the park will be like one of many things that happen to community and not with community. I have relationships with young folks who live in the neighborhood who have helped with the cleanup, but we haven’t taken time to actually design it. So that’s the next step really.”

A group of about 26 people stand outside under a blue sky in work clothes and masks.

The vacant lot needs a lot of work before it’ll be ready. SWOP hosted one clean up day already. Jasmine said, “We spent about 4 hours raking, picking up garbage, cutting back weeds and removing any sticks and branches.” 

Despite all of the work ahead, Jasmine described hopes for the space: “There are other Neighborspace gardens throughout Chicago that I think are beautiful and elements I would certainly love to steal. One of the bigger issues I see is the need to maintain the garden regularly. If we can create a low maintenance space that doesn’t require all that much expertise that’s also accessible and welcoming, then I’m good.” 

Jasmine knows that vegetable gardens need attention and regular labor. The feasibility of a vegetable garden will depend on the interest and time of neighbors.

“It’s important that the space isn’t obnoxiously gated or locked, there’s spaces to sit, and we really want chess tables too. I can see it being wood chips and everything being made of reclaimed/recycled/repurposed wood. It can be low stakes enough, but act as a hub for events like yoga or some shows,” described Jasmine.

Jasmine also described the vacant lot as evidence of need for broader community care and investment. Jasmine said, “I want to share that my community needs love and support and encouragement and to be made to feel human and worthy and valuable and capable.” Creating a park together can be part of this work.

Under a blue sky with leafy green trees in the background, a group of about 15 people in masks stand in a circle around a man in a purple shirt who is gesturing to them as if explaining a plan. There are garden supplies, Dunkin Donuts, and other supplies on the dirt ground.Acquiring the lot is still in progress too, but SWOP organizer Harry Meyer and others are working to complete the purchase. “Moving forward we will be addressing the land acquisition issues and continuing to plan work days,” said SWOP organizer Amanda Reilly. 

SWOP is planning additional work days soon. The lot needs much more energy and support to become a comfortable space. Reach out to Jasmine, Harry, and Amanda if you want to join this process.


SWOP is hiring!

SWOP is hiring!

SWOP is hiring two community organizers for the Chicago Connected campaign! The Chicago Connected campaign will work to link families with internet resources and technology. Are you interested? Is there someone you want to recommend?
Twenty-five people who work at SWOP pose for a group photo.
Staff photo, 2020.

Learn more by reading the job descriptions:

For more information and to apply, email Chris Brown at


The Southwest Organizing Project, a broad-based organization representing 45 member institutions on the southwest side of Chicago, writes this letter in response to the recent murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, but also past murders of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Laquan McDonald in Chicago and too many others. We recognize that the lack of trust between communities of color and the justice system were earned by long histories of police brutality and the oppression of our communities.

Many poor communities and communities of color face obstacles within American society, including housing insecurity, underfunded schooling, and repressive immigration policies. Yet, while our struggles have shared elements, they are not the same. Victims of police violence are more often members of our African American community. For allies who are non-black people of color, and white, who consider themselves purveyors of peace, justice, and equity, there remains a responsibility to stand with the African American community against police violence. Our support for the African American community should not stop at police violence. We must also address the anti-blackness that exists in our homes and neighborhoods. SWOP is committed to taking this work on within our organization and member institutions. We stand in solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis, and around the country, in their calls for swift and decisive change to the policing of our communities and the murdering of African Americans.



At the 2020 Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) and SWOP were honored for the Parent Engagement Institute and the work of parent mentors with the Woods Fund of Chicago Power of Community Award.  In 2004, SWOP modeled the Parent Mentor Program after LSNA’s work. Then in 2012, we partnered together to create the Parent Engagement Institute which has led to more parent mentor programs across Illinois.

Thanks to the whole team of parent mentors, coordinators, and Logan Square Neighborhood Association for their work of building power among parents and students in our schools. There are too many people to count to thank — currently there are 1,120 parent mentors in 150 schools.

SWOP’s parent mentors have adapted the ways they lead during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parent mentors are calling parents from their schools to see how families are and what resources they need. Parent mentors have:

  • delivered food
  • helped parents navigate remote learning
  • noticed and mitigated gaps in communication between schools and families around remote learning
  • reminded families to fill out the census
  • shared pantry locations
  • researched needed information on immigration
  • urged families to practice social distancing
  • collaborated with parents on how to teach their kids about COVID-19
  • addressed the lack of information in Spanish related to COVID-19, resources, and remote learning
  • picked up and delivered homework and medications
  • collaborated on where to find cleaning supplies
  • supported people through filing for unemployment benefits, SNAP
  • collaborated with families to get Chromebooks and Wi-Fi for students during remote learning
  • given social emotional support as many people are anxious

Thank you parent mentors for your continued work of advocating, supporting, and caring for our communities.

Watch the CNDA video recognizing this work.

Adapting Work During COVID-19

Adapting Work During COVID-19

During SWOP’s Monday staff meeting, staff called in from their homes to share how they are and updates on their work. Everyone is adapting to the changes COVID-19 has brought. 

Throughout the meeting, people shared their care and concern for loved ones, for neighbors, for people who are incarcerated in detention centers, prisons, and jails, for people who have lost jobs and work hours, for people who are sick, and for others who are especially vulnerable during the pandemic. 

Staff members are caring for the people around them, including people who are sick and those physically distant from them, supporting loved ones whose work does not allow them to physically distance from others, checking in on their communities, and continuing their work from their homes.

SWOP staff and organizers are supporting one another and their communities by working on ongoing projects and campaigns and adapting in response to emerging needs given the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the ways this work has looked include: 

Working on ongoing projects 

  • Having 1-1 relational meetings
  • Supporting one another
  • Referring people to resources they want and need
  • Collaborating with partners at the city and state levels
  • Working on ongoing campaigns and projects
  • Following up on reporting
  • Quantifying program work
  • Creating surveys and gathering data
  • Helping people connect to resources for home buying, home repairs, and other housing needs
  • Communicating over email
  • Working on budgets and funding
  • Reaching out to local administrators

Adapting to emerging needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Checking in with youth and supporting young people feeling restless at home
  • Calling people to check on their wellness and asking people what their plan is to fill out the census (SWOP made almost 3000 calls in March)
  • Learning and sharing various policies and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Collaborating with schools on remote learning plans
  • Collaborating with youth activists to do wellness and census calls
  • Advocating for people to get what they need for remote learning, including technology
  • Advocating to use funds in new ways to respond to emerging needs
  • Collaborating online through video calls
  • Creating online workshops
  • Distributing information about COVID-19, specifically for Spanish-speakers
  • Setting up new boundaries so staff make sure to care for themselves and their loved ones at home
  • Responding to emerging changes and needs
  • Advocating for a variety of services to move online
  • Developing and working through task lists given the changes in work routines
  • Brainstorming ways to support families at home with virtual activities
  • Supporting people learning new technology platforms

These categories are interwoven – these adaptations are possible because of the relationships that have been built over time and organizers have adapted in order to continue their ongoing work.

A statement on behalf of SWOP staff and leaders

A statement on behalf of SWOP staff and leaders

SWOP organizes to build a collective voice and pursue actions that “stand for the whole” in Southwest Chicago.  Our best information to date indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic requires strategic actions that run counter to our usual practices, but which we must begin to implement immediately and at scale in order to protect the health and well being of all of our community members.

Effective March 16th, 2020 the SWOP office will be closed until further notice, and SWOP staff will be working from their homes. All SWOP group actions have been postponed until further notice. 

We are encouraging all who are able, to step back, stay in, and practice physical distancing from others in order to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 virus.  This action is an opportunity, in this uncertain and difficult time, to lead by example.  

We also know that many in our community will be economically impacted by closures or unable to step back because of the nature of their work. We urge all employers to lead with generosity and those who can to provide continued economic support to their workers, and that all of us look for practical and creative ways to support them.

Please refer to trusted healthcare web sites such as the CDPH website or the CDC website for ongoing information about Covid-19.

Finally, please do not hesitate to be in contact with SWOP staff. We are still working and organizing for the common good in Southwest Chicago. Let’s pursue that work with the imagination, will, and strategic thinking commensurate with the challenges we face.

Increasing Parent Mentor Program Funding

Increasing Parent Mentor Program Funding

This year Illinois increased the Parent Mentor Program grant to $3.5 million – a $1 million increase from 2019. With this funding, 30 more schools receive support from parent mentors in primarily Black and Brown communities where funding has largely been divested.

SWOP organizer Maggie Perales runs finances for the entire statewide parent mentor program. Perales emphasized the impact of this funding increase on their work this year: 30 more schools, each with 8 more parent mentors, each supporting around 23 students. This means somewhere around 5,000 more students are receiving academic and social support from parent mentors this year.

Parent mentors also develop their leadership skills and build new relationships in their neighborhoods. The parent mentor program sometimes also acts as a segway into other opportunities for work and education. Perales described watching parent mentors gain deeper insights into the needs of their schools and pursuing work as social workers and teacher assistants. School administrators also see how parent mentors support their schools and sometimes hire parent mentors for other jobs. 

Currently, the statewide parent mentor program partners with 31 community-based organizations in 146 schools. By the end of 2020, Perales imagines parent mentors will be in 5 more schools. 

In Springfield, SWOP is organizing to advocate for increased funding again next year. “We have a good relationship [with the state]… They see the value of the program,” said Perales.

For 2020-2021, we’re asking for $4.75 million. This funding boost would allow the expansion of the parent mentor program into another 30 schools.

In addition to state funding, community based organizations get additional funding from foundations, organizations, and the schools in which they work. This allows the parent mentor program to fill in funding gaps. For example, some schools want more than the 8 parent mentors funded by the state grant.

Local School Council Elections

Local School Council Elections

Local School Council (LSC) elections are on April 22-23. Why may community members want to get involved? Castro, an education organizer at SWOP, said that when you “invest in your schools, you invest in your neighborhoods.” 

Castro also explained that LSCs are a way of practicing democracy that can make change here and now. Participating in public spaces is critical. 

SWOP wants strong LSC candidates and elections, because LSCs can create positive changes in schools which can act as powerful community anchors. 

According to Chicago Public Schools, LSCs serve their schools by “Monitoring the school improvement plan,” “Monitoring the school’s budget and expenditures,” and “Evaluating their school’s principal annually, as well as selecting a new contract principal for their school or renewing the contract of their current principal.” 

LSCs can shape their schools. LSCs can create local change rapidly. Meetings are public spaces where neighborhoods can do democracy. Community involvement is needed to make this happen.

Learn how to apply and more here: 

Citizenship Workshops

Citizenship Workshops

Thanks to our great team of volunteers, SWOP was able to help seventy-six people at the December Citizenship Workshop which SWOP hosted. At these monthly workshops, individuals received a legal screening and, if eligible, filled out their N-400 application for naturalization. Each applicant also got an opportunity to apply for a fee waiver which is intended to help low income individuals who cannot afford the current $725 immigration fee (application and biometrics).

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published its proposed fee schedule regulation that if implemented would increase the citizenship application fees by 83 percent, increasing Citizenship application fee from $640 to $1,170! This would, without a doubt, make the citizenship process less accessible and more challenging for our low income families.

SWOP holds Citizenship events once a month at different locations in Chicago. Look at our Upcoming Events page to see when they’re scheduled. The next workshop is on Saturday, February 1. This event is by appointment. For more information and to reserve your space at the workshop contact Adriana Velazquez at (773) 471-8208 ext. 113 or at

Volunteers from attorneys to interpreters to logistics make these workshops possible. Trainings are scheduled regularly in preparation for workshops. Contact Adriana if you want to volunteer at the workshops.



At our second Leadership Development training, we reviewed our conversations from the first day of training together. Jeff Bartow explained that change requires confrontation. While this does not necessarily mean conflict, confrontation does require honesty. Conflict often does accompany confrontations towards change.

Jessica Biggs, Southwest System of Care organizer, led us through an example of a power analysis. We discussed different forms of power, including power with, power within, and power over.

When conducting a power analysis, we ask: 

  • What is their self-interest?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • Who are allies?
  • Who are enemies?

Organizers brought in their own experiences of examining power and organizing to build power. 

If you want to explore these ideas and more, join us. SWOP holds Leadership Development trainings each year in Spanish and English. If you’re interested in joining a training, reach out to a SWOP organizer.