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Author: Chris Brown

City Offers Grant Opportunity for Homeowners

City Offers Grant Opportunity for Homeowners

The City of Chicago is making funds available for homeowners to replace old and non-working furnaces, boilers, and hot water heaters. If you live in the area bounded by 59th to 71st STs. and Western to California, you may be eligible to receive funding to improve your home’s systems.  Applications and supporting materials are due to the City by November 10th so don’t delay.  Please contact Heather Windmon at NHS for more information at 773-392-4202.

These grants are being made by the City as part of the Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP).  SWOP is a participant in the MMRP effort.  If you have questions about SWOP’s MMRP effort, please contact Harry at

SWOP Welcomes New Adler School Intern

SWOP Welcomes New Adler School Intern

Diana ChaidezSWOP is pleased to welcome new Adler University intern Diana Chaidez.  Diana is a first year student completing her social justice practicum.  At SWOP, she will focus on all kinds of data.  Her first task was working with SWOP staffer Harry Meyer to complete the latest housing survey of the community.  Over the course of this school year, Diana will work to track participation at SWOP meetings and leadership development; housing, crime, education and other data trends in the community; and, will help to demonstrate the impact of the Reclaiming Campaign.

Diana grew up in the community, graduated from Eberhart Elementary School, and still lives in the neighborhood with her family.  SWOP is excited to have her on board.

Lots of Reclaiming Updates Since May 25th Kickoff

Lots of Reclaiming Updates Since May 25th Kickoff

On May 25, 2017, more than 500 community leaders gathered at St. Adrian Church to kickoff the next phase of the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign (read about it here.)  Since then, a lot has happened with the campaign.

first buyerSWOP/Brinshore have completed 10 buildings since May, leasing up 25 units.  All the units completed during the first phase of the campaign are occupied.  Recently, SWOP/Brinshore sold their first single family home.  Three more are scheduled to be completed soon.  Using $1 million dollars committed from Metro IAF and LISC Chicago, SWOP and Brinshore are looking to acquire new buildings in the expanded target area.

Harry Meyer and SWOP’s new Adler School data intern, Diana Chaidez, have been completing the most recent survey of housing vacancy in the community.  The latest analysis shows that in the original 20 block target area, the community has gone from 93 long-term vacant buildings to 13 today.

Crime continues to go down in the community.  In 2012, there were a total of 327 crimes in the original target area.  Last year, there were 135, a decrease of 58%.  And crime continues to fall this year.  While crime is down, generally speaking, across the community and city, this is significantly more than the 33% decrease in the new target area during the same time period.

SWOP’s education programs are now underway in schools across the community.  Here’s a story about local Parent Mentors getting trained to start their work in 12 schools in the neighborhood.  Here’s another story about work at Gage Park to increase community involvement in the school.  The Teen REACH, Elev8, and VOYCE programs have all started up at Morrill, Marquette, and Gage Park respectively.  SWOP just started running the CPS-funded community school program at Talman; a first for SWOP.

Lindo move inImmigration continues to be a challenge given what is happening at the federal level.  Here is a story about SWOP’s response to the changes to DACA.  Here is a story about some of the work SWOP did to support DACA recipients.  SWOP continues to offer workshops on immigration every Wednesday evening in the SWOP office and to provide legal services through the SWOP attorney.

The work around the commercial corridor is about to move to the next step.  SWOP will be working with the firm JGMA, an award winning architectural firm, on a community design process for commercial spaces in the community.

Lastly, SWOP has raised about $3 million towards the overall campaign goal of $10 million and just over $10,000 towards the local giving campaign goal of $20,000.

Parent Mentors Ready To Work

Parent Mentors Ready To Work

IMG_0329School is back in session and that means it is time for Parent Mentors to be back in classrooms helping students succeed. During the week of October 2nd, 120 parents, from 12 local schools, gathered at Gage Park High School to build their skills. Mostly moms, these emerging leaders have committed to their children and their schools that they will work collectively to make things better.

Now in its second decade of work, the Parent Mentor Program is an effort that places parents in classrooms to assist the teacher in making sure all students succeed. The parents volunteer for 2 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, providing small group instruction, one on one tutoring, and engagement work with other parents. On Fridays, the Parent Mentors participate in leadership development training. SWOP’s Parent Mentor Program is part of a state-wide effort running in 72 schools across the state.

Each year, all the participants in the Parent Mentor Program participate in this week of training to prepare for the school year. They learn how to support teachers and students, how to bring more parents into the school and engage them in their children’s learning, and how they themselves can become more involved in public life.

IMG_0330The training is led by Parent Mentor Organizers, former program participants themselves. They know what it takes to be helpful and successful in a classroom and they share their knowledge with new parents coming into the program. The training gives the Coordinators an opportunity to expand their public life skills while ensuring that knowledge about the program gets carried from one group of participants to the next.

For more information on the Parent Mentor Program, please contact Jamillah Rashad at

Community Wraps Up Planning Process at Gage Park

Community Wraps Up Planning Process at Gage Park

IMG_0316On Tuesday, September 19, 2017, more than 25 SWOP leaders, Gage Park educators, students, and alumnus gathered in the Gage Park High School cafeteria.  They came together to answer the question: What Actions Should We Take to Achieve Our Vision For Gage Park High School?  Their work built off a similar session held on July 17th (find a report on this meeting here) where the group built a vision for the school.

After introductions and an update from principal Tamika Ball, the participants discussed what is and is not working at the school.  The group believed the school is headed in the right direction, that they liked the number of sports teams that are up and running, and the communication with parents and students.  The group was concerned with competition from charter schools, the overall lack of funding for schools, and though attendance is up, the number of students at Gage Park.

IMG_0320Joel Rodriguez then led the group through a planning exercise to identify potential action steps for the group to take.  Several great ideas came out of the discussion.  These include: developing feeder school relationships; conducting “reverse shadow days” where GPHS students attend local middle schools to spread the word about the good work of the school; and, instituting family nights to bring parents into the school and get them more involved.

If you are interested in helping to implement the action plans, please contact Jamillah Rashad at

SWOP Is Hosting a DACA Renewal Workshop

SWOP Is Hosting a DACA Renewal Workshop

DACApicSWOP is hosting a DACA Renewal Workshop on Saturday, September 23rd at Gage Park High School, 5630 S. Rockwell.  Registration starts at 8:00 a.m. and is open until 10:00 a.m.  You are eligible to renew for DACA renewal if:

  • Your current DACA expires on or before 3/5/18.
  • You do not have a serious, new arrest since your last DACA approval.
  • All previous encounters with Immigration were reported at the time of your initial DACA application.
  • You did not leave the country after 8/15/12 without Immigration’s permission (Advance Parole).

For more information and a list of items you will need to bring to the workshop, please visit our Facebook events page here.

To register, please call Iris at 773-471-8208 ext. 129.

Juan: A DACA Story

Juan: A DACA Story

Juan Ramirez picture for DACA Story 9.5.17My name is Juan and I am a DACA beneficiary.  I came to this country with my family when I was 9 years old.  As soon as I started school, it was my goal to learn English as quickly as possible, and by the time I was in eighth grade, I was able to speak it fluently.  I also was very diligent and dedicated to my studies, earning top grades consistently throughout high school and college.

I was able to go on to college and study. My dream was to become a teacher so I made plans to go onto graduate school and earn my teaching certification.  Even though at the time I had no legal status, I was determined to continue my dreams.  Unfortunately, the day after graduation while on my way to graduate school I was stopped by Border Patrol and put on deportation proceedings. Thanks to Senator Durbin I was able to receive deferred action prior to the DACA program.  Once DACA was in effect, I was able to continue my stay in this country and my deportation was put on hold.

Thanks to DACA I have been given the opportunity to contribute to this country in many ways.  I have worked in the nonprofit sector organizing English as a Second Language and Computer classes for immigrant adults.  I also have worked in healthcare, providing interpretation services for patients and medical staff.  Without DACA, I would no longer be able to contribute to this country in significant ways.

Adriana Velázquez: A DACA Story

Adriana Velázquez: A DACA Story

By Adriana Velázquez

Adriana V DACA 2It’s been 15 years since I first placed foot in this country. My name is Adriana Velazquez and I am an undocumented young adult in the south side of Chicago. I came to the United States when I was 11 years old in 2002 with my mom and my two sisters to finally live as a family with my dad and to build a better future together.

I received DACA in 2013 and have had it since. Having DACA for me has meant having a range of new possibilities. Before DACA, most of my decisions were heavily weighted on my lack of status and my inability to work legally. I refused to access a fake social security number to find work, and risk getting caught. Luckily, I found stipend work that did not require SSN, but pretty soon I realized how limited my options were. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up. I went to college to study a B.A. in Music, which I paid through private scholarships, stipend internships, and selling chocolates from a box I carried wherever I went. When I was pursuing my degree, I made sure I didn’t choose a career in which I wasn’t going to be able to pursue work. I couldn’t be a teacher, I couldn’t be a nurse or doctor, and I definitely couldn’t be a lawyer.

Adriana V DACA 3As a DACA recipient, suddenly I had more choices on what I wanted to study and where I could go. When I finally graduated from NEIU in May 2015, for the first time, I was able to research a variety of jobs I wanted to apply for. It got me all excited for a minute that, heck, if I wanted to be a server at some fancy restaurant I could; if I wanted to be a music teacher at a private institution, I could be that too!

Having DACA gave me the possibility to get my Driver’s License and state ID. This has given me a peace of mind when I think of the road trips I want to take and the places I want to fly to (of course, all still within the US). DACA was not perfect, but for 5 years, it had given me and 800,000 others a 2 year renewable ticket to a somewhat normal life. I am finally building credit! I have a job I love doing and, with that, the ability to live a healthy life and help my family do the same. Now, when I see a police officer drive next to me, my first instinct isn’t to fear anymore. When I hear my friends are going to New York or Miami for vacation, my first instinct isn’t to exclude myself anymore. When I get a Job offer or think of continuing my Education, I don’t have immediate limits.

DACA also impacted my family and friends. Several of my closest friends were finally able to apply to a job they enjoy that offers them health insurance, improving the way they can take care of themselves. Now that my two sisters and I are able to work, my mother and father are impacted by DACA because we are able to contribute to the home expenses and are three more drivers in the house in case of an emergency. I had also seen a presence of depression and anxiety hovering over my undocumented peers who feared encounters with the law, detainment, and deportation. Having DACA boosted the confidence of many to excel without fear and granted them some tranquility in their everyday life.

Adriana Velazquez DACA 1Since I arrived in the United States, I’ve lived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, a strong but underserved part of the south side of Chicago. I learned English, excelled in school, and became involved in the visual and performing arts as well as with many opportunities to serve my community. Soon I was helping to paint a mural, developing community plays, providing mentorship for children, and helping to start a scholarship for youth in my neighborhood. Through my actions, I became an example to other youth and young adults in my community who, like me, look for brighter futures they can be a part of.

Thriving and modeling for others has given me the opportunity to see individuals and families around me grow in their own strength while continuing to disprove the stereotype that people might have of me because of my status or the color of my skin. I have grown so much in the past 5 years; became a bolder, stronger, more confident me. That is my contribution to this country, and one that cannot be taken away by ending DACA. My ability to find a job is diminished greatly by the president’s unjust decision, but my courage, resilience, and will to fight for what I believe in is stronger than ever.

Today I am a community organizer, musician, leader, sister, daughter, friend; a human being. I am the seed of immigrants whose valuable teachings have made me into the person I am today. I will not stop seeking that brighter future when my family’s dignity and safety will not depend on the color of our skin, or the place we were born. Today is a special day. Today is my birthday, I will have celebrated 15 birthdays in the United States, a place I call my home. There is still so much more I can contribute and will continue to contribute to this home and I hope many will join me, undocumented or not, in continuing to fight with me for family, and the millions of immigrants because we have so much to give, we are not giving up, and we are here to stay.

Another great story on DACA youth is here.

SWOP’s response to the  White House’s horrifying decision to end DACA

SWOP’s response to the  White House’s horrifying decision to end DACA

Leaders of the Southwest Organizing Project are horrified at today’s White House announcement to end the highly successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has a tremendous impact on the lives of nearly 800,000 young immigrants and their communities across the United States, including more than 42,000 who live in Illinois.

“Our federal government, through the much publicized DACA program, both encouraged and made a promise to young people that if they cooperated with the Federal Government, passed background checks and met other stringent requirements, they would be allowed to live and work legally in our communities without fear of deportation or reprisal,” said Jeff Bartow, Executive Director of the Southwest Organizing Project. “To break those promises to hardworking young residents and their families by ending DACA and removing the pledged protections is an injustice of the highest magnitude and inflicts tremendous damage to our country and our state far into the future, both economically and morally.”

The economic impact of the end of the DACA program is estimated to reduce our national GNP by more than $430 Billion over the next decade and cost the State of Illinois nearly $2.3 Billion annually in GDP losses. Many employers will lose strong employees they rely on, families will lose much needed incomes, and communities like ours all across the country will lose a generation of future leaders that we have invested so much in. Many of our residents who are US citizens risk separation from older brothers and sisters and even parents because of today’s terrible decision.

“I’ve come so far; being able to earn my degree in music, working to provide for my family, being a role model for my parents,” said Adriana Velazquez, a DACA recipient. “It doesn’t make sense why such a decision has been made. Many of my friends who have DACA are now married and have children. We all have been constructing our lives over the last 5 years based on the promise the Federal Government made to us.”

The Southwest Organizing Project believes that all immigrants are an important part of the fabric of our community and all immigrants have the right to live free of fear and deserve a path to citizenship. We believe that the young people who took our federal government’s DACA offer at face value, worked hard and lived up to their end of the bargain represent some of the brightest parts of the future of our nation.  And we condemn the decision by this administration to break the promise made to them, to their families, and to all the members of our community.

Time For Another Round Of ESL Classes

Time For Another Round Of ESL Classes

by Maggie Perales

SWOP is again partnering with Gage Park High School and Instituto del Progreso Latino to provide English as a Second Language classes for community residents.  The free classes begin on Tuesday, September 19th.  Literacy support begins at 9:30 a.m. and Level 1 and Level 2 classes begin at 11:30 a.m.

To participate, you must register.  Registration will take place on Tuesday, September 12th and Thursday, September 14th from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. at Gage Park High School, 5630 S. Rockwell.  Be sure to bring an id and proof of address.  Participants will also need to take a placement test that day.

If you have questions, please contact Maggie Perales at 773-471-8208 ext. 118 or