Last week, Hoops in the Hood and Playstreets kicked off their Summer programs in Southwest Chicago. The premier was a hit, attracting almost 100 neighborhood residents over the course of the afternoon. The crossover event took place Friday, June 29th, on the 6000 block of South Rockwell. At 11 o’clock, the Playstreets crew loaded up cars and carried over hoops, grills, tents, tables, and more. They then transformed the residential block into a basketball court, wrestling arena, face painting booth, barbecue joint, and carnival.
As people began to show up around 1:00, the scorcher of a day intensified. The sun beamed down relentlessly on the 95 degree day, but it didn’t come close to stopping the kids from having hours of fun. The promise of an item from the prize box was enough incentive for many kids to play some of the carnival games for hours. Others insisted on having butterflies, cheetahs, or hearts painted on their faces, or requesting their favorite song be played at full volume so they could show off their dance moves.
Finally, after almost three hours, the kids began to give in to the heat and head home. The crew disassembled the block and it became a regular street once again. The kids were sad to see the day end, but relieved to hear that Playstreets would be back to blocks near theirs again this Summer.
The Teen Reach Program was started nine years ago, originally at Fairfield School for one year before moving to the Morrill School, where it has stayed since. The program works to give students in grades five through eight a productive environment to stay on top of their academic work and provides them with positive mentors and outlets for expressing themselves. The young people can build relationships through the program that last them the rest of their lives.
Each day is divided into three different parts. Beginning at 3 pm, the first hour and fifteen minutes (“The Homework Hour”) is dedicated to giving the students a productive space where they can do their homework and receive help or extra learning if they need it. The next segment allows the kids to run around and make use of the large field and playground of the Morrill School, as well as eat a meal and hang out with each other and their mentors. Finally, from 4:45 to 6:00, the young people have classes. The classes are taught by community residents, and their goal is to find overlap between the childrens’ and adults’ interests in order to give them a shared activity to learn through. This can be anything from music, art, science experiments, or other expressive interests. The program also takes one field trip a month, and provides the kids with spaces to discuss complex issues such as their gender circles on Tuesdays, which separate the kids into groups by gender and lets them share in a group of their peers.
Jasmine Serrano, who has been in charge of the Teen Reach Program since 2016, is not alone among the staff in having grown up in the area. In fact, a vast majority of the mentors in the program are homegrown parents, teachers, or members from the community. This further builds the strength of the program because it provides young people with positive examples of people who grew up in a similar situation as them in the neighborhood.
On Saturday, June 2, Neighborhood Works celebrated its 40th anniversary as an organization in America and 31st in Chicago by cleaning up the 5900 and 6000 blocks of South Campbell Avenue. A group of over 100 people comprised of corporate volunteers, Campbell Avenue locals, and police gathered at 8:30 in the morning to start cleaning. The team worked hard for over three hours mowing lawns, painting walls and fences, planting flowers, cleaning yards, weeding, and more. In total, they were able to fix up twenty-two properties within the two-block stretch. Finally, when the work was all done, the group convened and ate lunch together to celebrate their hard work.
The heart of their efforts was a vacant house located at 6036 S. Campbell Avenue. The building was purchased by Brinshore from the Cook County Bank, and NHS will be funding an owner occupant of the home as a step towards reclaiming the block for the community. Additionally, a phone tree was created for the members of the community to keep them better connected and to bring residents closer together.