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Author: Chris Brown

Building Leaders

Building Leaders

On Thursday, April 25, 2019, 37 people jammed into a conference room on the seventh floor of Holy Cross Hospital for the English version of SWOP’s Leadership Development Training.  A similar number were meeting in the auditorium of the hospital for the Spanish training.  This was the third and final session of SWOP’s April 2019 leadership training.  These leaders were Parent Mentors from local schools, young people active in SWOP’s jobs campaign, health professionals wanting to become more active in the community, parishioners from churches, and other people from one of SWOP’s 44 member institutions.

 

During the session, participants reviewed what they had learned in the first two sessions on the differences between public and private life and how to do a power analysis.  Then they spent most of the session on the heart of community organizing: one to one meetings.  Participants learned what is a one to one meeting (an intentional conversation) and what it is not (an interview).  Then three pairs of volunteers conducted one to one meetings in front of the group, one after another.  The facilitators coached them through the process and asked the group for feedback and learnings from the demonstrations.  The last activity of the training session was having everyone pairing up with someone they didn’t know for a 10 minute conversation to practice what they had just learned.

 

As the meeting wrapped up, these leaders were challenged to come to one of several upcoming SWOP meetings and actions to practice their new found skills.  For those interested in leadership development training, SWOP will do these sessions again in October of 2019.

Get Out The Vote 2019

Get Out The Vote 2019

SWOP’s non-partisan Get Out The Vote Campaign began on March 30th 2019 and extended through the evening of Election Day on April 2nd.  Eighty-nine Parent Mentors, young people, SWOP organizers, and volunteers mobilized and knocked on doors throughout the four day campaign.  In an effort to increase voter turnout in in Chicago’s southwest side in the runoff election, SWOP leaders walked through their neighborhoods talking to voters about the importance of the election.

Through Get Out The Vote efforts, SWOP successfully made contact with 1,607 registered voters and confirmed that 603 people went out to vote in the April 2nd elections. Leaders and organizers who canvassed the neighborhoods came from diverse backgrounds and were a reminder to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, and ethnic background, that going out to vote is a way to make your voice heard. This campaign served as a great way to expose leaders to public life and increasing understanding of what civic engagement is all about. Together, parents, youth, volunteers, and organizers experienced what is was like to have a meaningful impact in our communities by getting people out to vote.

Coming Soon- Community Employer Assisted Housing Program!

Coming Soon- Community Employer Assisted Housing Program!

SWOP is pleased to announce the development of a “Community Employer Assisted Housing Program (CEAHP).” Through the generous support of Chase Bank and local employers, SWOP will be offering this program. The community employer assisted housing program will be providing $2,500 grants to eligible employees to purchase a home within the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign borders. In line with SWOP’s mission to empower and enable individuals and families in the community to determine their own future and connect with each other to improve the neighborhoods, the community employer assisted housing program will provide an opportunity to encourage home ownership and expand affordable housing.

The $2,5000 grant assistance can be used on any home between California Ave and Western Ave and 59th and 71st streets. Additional financial assistance may be available through the city’s Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP) and lending opportunities are available through Neighborhood Housing Services. Current employers included in the program are Chase Bank and Holy Cross Hospital/Sinai Health System, however, any employers located in or near SWOP’s target area are welcome to join the program.

Interested families and individuals must be employed by a participating employer for one year and be in good standing. Applicants to CEAHP must also be the primary resident of the home for the first five years after purchase and must complete a HUD-approved home-ownership counseling course. To be eligible an applicant’s household income must fall within 120% of the area median income.

If you would like to apply for the program or are interested in having your local business become part of the program, please reach out to us! Please contact Harry Meyer at 773-471-8208 (ext. 131) or hmeyer@swopchicago.org or Amanda Reilly at 773-471-8208 (ext. 115), areilly@swopchicago.org to learn more about this opportunity.

March Action Council Meeting

March Action Council Meeting

On Thursday, March 28, 2019 over 170 community members, Parent Mentors, individuals from member institutions, SWOP staff, and friends of SWOP entered the basement of Holy Cross Hospital to represent their neighborhood and share their concerns for their blocks, churches, schools, and other organizations. SWOP opened its quarterly action council with SWOP leaders speaking on diverse issues from immigration to youth engagement. SWOP’s executive director, Jeff Bartow, provided an opportunity for community members to learn about each other’s values and hopes for their community through one-to-one conversations and SWOP staff spoke on a new “Southwest System of Care,” (a health care initiative) for our neighborhood Chicago Public Schools, and on the overall decrease in crime in our neighborhood, as well as next steps to continue to address violence on our streets.

As the action council continued throughout the evening, attendees participated in one breakout group. Breakout groups discussed anti-violence, housing, education, parent engagement, youth engagement, and immigration concerns. The energy in the room steadily built as concerned residents and community members discussed possible action steps and solutions to tackle current issues affecting the southwest side of Chicago. As the action council drew to close, representatives from each group addressed the assembly with key bullet points from each discussion. Those present at the event were asked to make commitments to participate in follow-up discussions with their breakout group and meet with others in their community individually, in a “one to one” meeting.

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 CeaseFire 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.