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Author: Chris Brown

SWOP CeaseFire: Building Relationships and Improving Safety

SWOP CeaseFire: Building Relationships and Improving Safety

Every day at 4 p.m. Andre, Carla, Mirna, and Myra, meet in a storefront on West 63rd ST.  They are there to debrief activity in the community and to make a plan of action for the day of work ahead.  The four are community outreach and violence interrupters for SWOP’s CeaseFire program.  The four of them, along with Rafi Peterson, SWOP’s director of anti-violence programs, are working hard to lower crime and violence in Southwest Chicago.

SWOP receives funding from the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority to carry out the CeaseFire program.  The focus of the work is on police beats 823, 825, and 833.  This is basically the area from 55th to 70th Streets and from Claremont to Cicero.

The idea behind SWOP’s CeaseFire work is simple: build relationships and deter people from committing acts of violence.  The work is hard.  The community outreach workers are pounding the pavement to build relationships with people likely to be perpetrators or victims of violence.  They want to understand their needs and connect them with services.  It might be getting them into a GED class or a job training program.  It might be connecting them with a food pantry or a substance abuse clinic.  They host events to provide positive activities for people.  They convene support groups to give participants a chance to help each other out.

The violence interrupters are gathering information on activity in the community and are deploying themselves to, as their job title states, interrupt the violence.  They use their relationships with individuals to talk them down from taking violent action.  They undertake conflict mediation with people who are angry with one another and might use violence to resolve their dispute.  They track shootings and meet with family and friends to prevent retaliatory shootings.  Sometimes they constructively shadow, as in follow around, individuals they fear may undertake a violent action.  Each situation is different, so they develop their response to meet each circumstance.

For each of them, the work is personal.  They all live in the community and have a long history with CeaseFire and the people they are working with. They celebrate each and every victory, no matter how big or how small.  It might be the breaking up of a fight between a group of high school students.  It might be the dad who was active in a street organization and the victim of a shooting who is now a claims agent for an insurance company.

The work is having a profound impact on the community.  In the Reclaiming Southwest target area, crime is down 55% since 2012 and 31% in the surrounding community.  It only went down 11% in the City as a whole.  The challenge is that State funding is intermittent at best and this year’s round of support ends in June, just as things are “heating up” in the community.

SWOP Citizenship Workshops Help Families Prepare Paperwork

SWOP Citizenship Workshops Help Families Prepare Paperwork

Early on Saturday, March 10, 2018 SWOP staff and volunteers gathered at St. Clare of Montefalco Church. They set up tables and laid out materials as they waited for people to make their way to the Church, a member institution of SWOP.

The staff and volunteers were there to host one of SWOP’s monthly Citizenship Workshops.  At these events, SWOP helps applicants complete their N-400 form and other documents they need to apply for Citizenship. On this particular Saturday, 74 people were assisted at the workshop.  They were also provided with a legal review and answered any questions they might have had about the process. This effort is funded in part by the State of Illinois through its New Americans Initiative.

To know more about our citizenship efforts, how to apply, or how to volunteer and help others in this process, please contact Adriana Velazquez at or at (773)471-8208 Ext. 113

Now Is The Time To Register To Vote for the March 20 General Election in Illinois

Now Is The Time To Register To Vote for the March 20 General Election in Illinois

SWOP, with support from the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voices Campaign, is undertaking a non-partisan voter registration drive and Get Out The Vote campaign.  Two leaders, Azalia Martinez and Stephanie Maltos, are working in schools and faith institutions to find and register new voters and to get people who have not voted in recent elections to come out and vote in the Illinois Primary Election on March 20th.  SWOP’s goal is to register 250 new voters and contact and move to the polls 1,000 people who have not voted in recent elections.

Having started the campaign on January 19th, they have already met with parents from seven schools.  They are working to sign up students at Daley College.  They will also sign up voters at the end of Mass at several local churches in the next few weeks.

A few things to know about registering to vote.  If you will turn 18 on or before the November 6, 2018 General Election, you can register and vote in the March 20 Primary Election.  If you have moved recently, you need to re-register.  If you have not voted for several elections, you need to check to be sure your registration is still valid.  You can do this by re-registering.  The deadline for paper voter registrations for the March primary is February 20th.

If you have any questions or want SWOP to come to your institution to register voters (or missed the Feb 20 deadline), please contact David McDowell at or 773-471-8208 ext. 112.

DACA Renewal

DACA Renewal

In September, President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), putting in jeopardy over 800,000 young people (read SWOP’s response here). On January 9, a federal judge ordered the Federal Government to continue the DACA program.  The question that people continue to ask is, “should I renew my DACA under these circumstances.”

At SWOP Legal Services we stand ready to answer your questions, help educate you on your legal options, and process necessary applications.  SWOP is scheduling DACA renewal appointments.  Please contact Iris Gutierrez-Berrios at or 773-471-8208 ext. 129.

Reflecting On 20 Years Of Successful Community Organizing.

Reflecting On 20 Years Of Successful Community Organizing.

It is the rare community organization that makes it to 20 years.  It is rarer still when you have leaders who have been there from the beginning and can tell stories about all the work they’ve seen and been a part of.  At this year’s annual SWOP Holiday Party, Sister Margaret Zalot and Betty Gutierrez shared their reflections on what it has been like to be a leader in SWOP for all of its 20 year history.

IMG_1389Sister Margaret went first with these comments:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

We can add to these words of Howard Thurman, our own words that describe the work that SWOP has been about these past 20 years as an organization on the southwest side of Chicago.  It is the work of Christmas for us.  Perhaps the following words ring true for you this past year, the past five years, the past ten years, or like myself, the past twenty years.

We are grateful for all those who labored

  • to bring a diverse group of people as ourselves, living and working on the southwest side to the table,
  • to provide spaces where our stories could be told and our voices heard,
  • to encourage those who might be passed over to not to be afraid to be seen,
  • to teach others how and when to use their power,
  • to promote the building of just structures and systems,
  • to have faith in the extraordinary potential of ordinary people like ourselves.

We pray that this work may continue

  • in this community and in communities throughout our city and our nation and beyond,
  • inspired by the past and hopeful for a better future,
  • guided by the values of human dignity, solidarity, and the common good.

We pray we may recognize, celebrate, and support

All those who labor to bring people together, to create an us,

To become co-creators of a just and peaceful world

Where all are an irreplaceable part of the whole.

This is what SWOP is all about and has been about these past 20 years.  And we are very grateful..

So we end with the words of Dag Hammarskjold:

For all that has been, thanks.  THANKS.

For all that will be, yes.    YES.  Amen.

Betty followed her with these comments:

IMG_1396My name is Betty Gutierrez.  It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of this 20 year journey with the Southwest Organizing Project.  I would like to share some of the highlights of this journey that has been filled with roadblocks and victories.

English as second language classes (six member institutions connecting to make it possible) 500 people taking classes

Take Ten (five member institutions- elementary schools) focusing on ways to ease tensions in a peaceful way

Countless prayer marches in the streets to help keep hope alive and lend support to one another

Safe Passage we formed for our Muslim Community after 911

Many political forums, trips to city hall, Springfield and to Washington, DC to let our voices be heard on Immigration, Safety, Housing

So many lessons learned….deepening connections…creating space in our community so we all feel like we are an integral part of the puzzle.

In closing I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Sisters of Casimir for they have shown us the way.  A community united will never be separated.

SWOP is incredibly fortunate to have these two as leaders.

Following Her Passion

Following Her Passion

aSWOP Staff-Jamillah Rashad-2763Jamillah Rashad has decided to follow her passion and is leaving SWOP.  Ever since she started at SWOP, Jamillah has told anyone who would listen that she loves early childhood work.  To that end, Jamillah has taken a position with the City of Chicago helping to plan and deliver high quality, early childhood programming.

Jamillah started with SWOP over five years ago, working on the Elev8 program at Marquette.  She moved from being an assistant to running the program at the school.  She played a key role in the successful transition of AUSL turning around the school and in the integration of the Esperanza Health Center into the program.  Her next role at SWOP was running the Parent Mentor Program.  She helped to successfully implement the program this year in 12 schools in the community.

We wish Jamillah all the best.  If you have questions about the Parent Mentor Program, please contact Maggie Perales at

Another Great Year, Another Great Holiday Party

Another Great Year, Another Great Holiday Party

IMG_1377On Thursday, December 14th over 300 people gathered in the basement cafeteria of Maria Catalyst High School for a SWOP event; the annual SWOP Holiday Party.  They came out in the cold to celebrate the holidays, to remember 20 years of organizing work, but most importantly, to make connections and build relationships with their neighbors.


IMG_1396At the party, everyone enjoyed chicken from Holy Cross Hospital, pizza from Greater Southwest Development Corporation, lots of homemade dishes from Parent Mentors, and a wide selection of desserts donated from SWOP member institutions.    Young people from Teen REACH, VOYCE, and Elev8 served up the food.  Betty Gutierrez, Sister Margaret Zalot, and Jeff Bartow offered reflections on 20 years of organizing.  There was festive holiday music.  And mostly, there were conversations between old friends and new acquaintances.


IMG_1379Maggie Perales recalled that the Holiday Party used to be small enough that it could be held in the old SWOP offices; an old apartment above the NHS offices.  Now it fills up the cafeteria with people from every SWOP member institution and lots of friends from affiliated organizations.  It is a sign of a strong neighborhood that people from all over the community like to come together and share in the holiday spirit.


IMG_1400Happy Holidays!

Looking Back To Continue To Move Forward

Looking Back To Continue To Move Forward

Recently, Senior Organizer David McDowell was asked by LISC Chicago to reflect on the first Quality-of-Life planning process and resulting work.  Though the work for that 2005 plan began more than 14 years ago, it has formed much of the basis of SWOP’s work still going on today.

Here are David’s thoughts on the process and results:

IMG_5057To build a new community, we begin with relationships.

Vision[1]: Because we love Chicago Southwest and want to stay here, we envision a community that in five years will be one of the top 10 most desirable neighborhoods in Cook County. The plan included 8 distinct strategies:

1   Promote stable investment and protect our affordable housing market

2   Establish an active town center by revitalizing the 63rd and Western commercial district

3   Strengthen and sustain leadership and community commitment

4   Create a safe neighborhood by investing in marginalized youth and young adults and building positive resident/police relations.

5   Increase access to comprehensive health care, including preventive, primary and mental health services for residents of all ages regardless of income and immigration status

6   Create better recreational and social opportunities for youth

7   Expand the local employment base, prepare residents for employment, and improve access to jobs

8   Improve local schools and strengthen their role in the community


Keanna Lindo is sharing her testimony (1)Did the plan succeed at those goals?  What were the biggest wins, whether or not they are directly related to these goals?

  • SWOP planned and executed an award winning anti-foreclosure campaign that saved 600 homes and completed the $7 million dollar Phase 1 of the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign, an award winning housing redevelopment campaign  that rehabbed nearly 100 long term vacant units. Phase 2 of Reclaiming began on May 25, 2017 with the launch of a $10 million dollar capital campaign
  • SWOP has engaged more than 1000 local resident leaders in formal leadership development classes, many of whom have been involved in significant legislative wins that impact the quality of life for families in SW Chicago including winning the right for undocumented students to access state college as residents, statewide limits on out of-school suspensions as a disciplinary tool and new reporting requirements on its use, statutory limits on high cost predatory home loans, a foreclosure mediation program in Cook County, and laws that make our community safer for immigrants including access to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, Chicago’s Welcoming Cities Ordinance and the Illinois Trust Act.
  • Our community has moved from having one Federally Qualified Health Center to five, including a new school-based health clinic at Marquette School of Excellence.
  • SWOP has created two afterschool programs serving more than 300 students annually and just began a third community school initiative this year.
  • SWOP began a Parent Mentor program with 28 parents in 3 neighborhood schools in 2006. Currently SWOP has expanded the program to 130 parents across 15 neighborhood schools and partnered with Logan Square Neighborhood Association to win $1.5M in annual state funding to expand the program to engaging more than 600 parents in 13 community organizations working in 70 schools across Illinois.

IMG_7970How did Quality-of-Life Planning help make these things happen?

  • Our quality of life planning process was focused on building relationships between residents and between community institutions while thinking together about what our community needed to succeed. These relationships set the stage for much of the work that took place in the following decade. SWOP’s connection with LISC and the other 14 communities involved in simultaneous planning widened our connections across the city with actors that we might not otherwise engage with.
  • LISC’s position as an intermediary and its deep knowledge of local neighborhood capacity and direction along with its national reach facilitated new relationships with funders, launching efforts like the Elev8 school initiative and the Smart Communities Digital planning which expanded the capacities of our community and helped build new public/private collaborations to further our planning strategies
  • The decade long focus on planning and implementing helped expand our communities’ capacity to respond to unexpected challenges like the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing foreclosure crisis.

What unanticipated challenges did you face, and how did the QLP process influence your response?

The two biggest challenges during the life of the 2005 QLP process were the 2008 national financial crisis and its impact on homeownership, employment and businesses, and on the stability of key community stakeholder institutions like our schools and churches; and the ongoing State of Illinois Budget crisis which put enormous pressure on much-needed human service providers and schools in our community. The planning process allowed SWOP to take its relational organizing model and merge it with a broad cross-community planning model. The relationships built during the original planning and the subsequent Elev8 and Smart Communities planning processes helped our community develop the capacity to better respond to unforeseen events like those.

You can find the original plan here and the new plan here.

For more information, please contact David at

[1] From the original plan.

Devonta Boston Joins SWOP as Public Allies Member 

Devonta Boston Joins SWOP as Public Allies Member 

SWOP Staff- Davonta BostonIt would be hard to say that SWOP is welcoming Devonta to SWOP as he’s been a youth leader with the organization for more than six years.  Devonta first started working with SWOP as a 14 year old freshman at Gage Park High School in the VOYCE program.  In this program, he developed his leadership skills and a strong taste for community organizing.  At VOYCE, Devonta learned about one to one meetings, building power, and taking action to make changes he cared about.  He credits VOYCE for keeping him school and getting him through to graduation. 

Devonta built on his interest in organizing after graduation by joining Public Allies and working in Oak Park on community engagement.  When he had a chance to do a second year in the program, he pushed himself to work in his own community on issues that were literally close to home.  Devonta is using his Public Allies internship this year to run the VOYCE program at Gage Park; the same program that helped him find his passion for community work.  His goal is to identify young people and help them build their leadership skills.  He is also working with the school administration on increasing enrollment at the school, building stronger bridges between the school and the community, and returning Frarority to the school (a fraternity/sorority Greek life program).   

In addition to his Public Allies work at SWOP, Devonta organizes local young people to conduct service projects to help the less fortunate in the community.  You can often find them in the SWOP office on the weekends making sandwiches for the homeless or planning other community building activities. 

For more information on VOYCE, please contact Devonta at

Two More Houses Ready For Sale

Two More Houses Ready For Sale

KIMG2452SWOP and Brinshore are hosting an open house Saturday, November 18th from 10:00 a.m. until 1 p.m. for the next two houses ready for sale under the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign.  Both homes are classic Chicago bungalows, have been fully rehabbed inside and out, and come with new appliances.  The homes are located at 5749 S. Talman and 6147 S. Mozart.  Please stop by and see them.  For more information, please contact Harry Meyer at 773-471-8208 ext. 131 or