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Author: Chris Brown

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.

Celebrating Together at Our Holiday Party

Celebrating Together at Our Holiday Party

Hundreds of SWOP members, leaders, and their families celebrated our work together at our annual holiday party. SWOP staff estimated about 500 people came.

SWOP would not exist as it is without these hundreds of people and more. Building community is relational. People show up because of the people they know are expecting them.

Building off of this understanding and our campaign for Census 2020, organizer Adriana and youth leader Iliany shared about the importance of every person being counted.

Guests were invited to join a community art project. Guests wrote down why they matter and we linked these reasons together. One by one, and the community emerged. Similarly, as we work to count our community, it happens one by one.

Members donated chicken, pizzas, rice, pastas, salads, desserts and much more for our dinner together.


Takeaways from Leadership Development, Part 1

Takeaways from Leadership Development, Part 1

Leadership Development trainings are not what someone might expect – they’re not about public speaking, or personality, or personal success. Rather, these trainings could be renamed “Reflection on Public Life” according to SWOP’s executive director Jeff Bartow, who led the English-speaking training in November 2019.

Throughout the first session of Leadership Development with Bartow in November, a group of staff and community members learned together about power, organizing, anger, community, change, and transforming overwhelming problems into tangible and actionable issues. A small group of seven participants allowed each person to share their experiences and ideas throughout.

Bartow described some of the history of southwest Chicago and SWOP. Check out Martha Irvine’s article for one account of these histories. Check out SWOP’s “History”  page for another.

Some of the key ideas included in the leadership training on public life: 

  • There is power in collective voice.
  • SWOP approaches organizing through institutions, because institutions often have more power (meaning: an ability to act) than individuals. 
  • A guiding question is: “Where is the potential power in this neighborhood?”
  • Organizing is related to activism, but different; organizing is about building relationships that surpass any one issue.
  • Organizing is always about how to build relationships and with whom. This is face-to-face work.
  • Organizing requires reflection and imagination on “the world as it is,” and on “the world as it should/could be.” 
  • Leaders 1) have integrated their anger, 2) are clear about their interests, 3) imagine, and 4) use humor to add and diffuse tension.
  • Organizing is slow work and at the same time requires urgency.

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. 

Check out Martha Irvine’s article on Chicago Lawn’s comeback

Check out Martha Irvine’s article on Chicago Lawn’s comeback

“The comeback is a particularly stunning feat when you consider the neighborhood’s history,” wrote Associated Press reporter Martha Irvine in “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die.”

Irvine highlighted the work of SWOP, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and neighborhood residents as resistance to the issues caused by white supremacist violence and divestment. 

Read Irvine’s “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die” here. 

Irvine, Martha. “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die.” Associated Press. 25 November 2019.

Action Council Meeting

Action Council Meeting

Action Councils are spaces for SWOP organizers to share about their work. Partners, members, volunteers, and more gathered together to learn updates and be invited to work on campaigns.

At Thursday’s Action Council on November 14, organizers shared updates on their work with immigration, building community safety, and education. Most of the time focused on the 2020 census because it impacts everything of which SWOP is a part.

Imelda Salazar, who is leading SWOP’s work on the Census work, presented why the census matters to SWOP. Imelda emphasized that SWOP’s primary reason for doing census work is to build power – the power to act – in SWOP’s communities.

The census will also impact SWOP’s communities and therefore our work together. Politically, the census may impact the number of representatives Illinois has. Illinois could lose one or two seats in the House of Representatives. Economically, the census impacts the distribution of resources to different communities. It is important that all people are counted in the right place.

To learn more about the Census, check out the links on our Census 2020 page.

To partner with SWOP to get an accurate count of our population, contact organizer Imelda at

Work on Maplewood Avenue

Work on Maplewood Avenue

Community organizing looks like many different things. The reason for this is that community organizing depends on relationship building. Sometimes, this looks like a group of people doing fall yard work.

Through SWOP’s partnerships with United Power for Action and Justice and Ascension Parish, Nick Brunick became a supporter of SWOP. Nick is an attorney at Applegate and Thorne-Thomsen (ATT) which focuses on affordable housing and community development. So Nick connected ATT with SWOP. 

Now ATT is sponsoring the rehab of a vacant property on Maplewood. ATT gathered together members of their firm and their families to spend their Saturday with SWOP. They learned more about the work of SWOP and gave their time and energy as well. 

The group from ATT began by learning about the two phases of the Reclaiming Southwest housing project. SWOP staff showed the volunteers maps demonstrating the impact of SWOP’s work. For example, within the first target area, vacant properties dropped from 93 to 8 since 2012. SWOP staff also described how housing work is intertwined with education initiatives and building community safety. 

Then it was time for some yard work and demolition! The ATT group helped clean up the property on Maplewood by picking up trash and trimming weeds in the yards. Inside, they helped demolish parts of the kitchen. 

The ATT group also toured a fully-rehabbed building that is ready to be sold. This tour gave them a vision to what their work is contributing.

Joining SWOP

Joining SWOP

National Health Corps is a branch of AmeriCorps that provides support for community organizations that effectively and compassionately bridge the health-resource gap in underserved communities. In these neighborhoods, the social determinants of health are often outside of individual or family control and lead to disproportionately health-damaging experiences. Organizations like SWOP connect people in the community with holistic support and address factors such as housing, education, income, and healthcare while fostering one-to-one relationships. I plan to support SWOP’s System of Care by conducting a series of nutrition workshops for parents at partner schools. After this year of service, I hope parent mentors and navigators will be leading a strong health education program for the community.

Only three weeks into my year of service, I have really come to appreciate SWOP’s relationship-driven model, and I would like to learn how to apply it to fostering community health. I would also like to understand the creation and implementation of the System of Care and how a community can coordinate existing resources to support individuals and families that often fall through the cracks.

          –Apurva Jolepalem

Communities of people who are committed to one another and to shared visions are the best forces of change, and we need much change. Community organizing gets at this – building relationships to gather communities together and build power. I’m at SWOP because I believe in this and want to learn more. 

I’m also at SWOP because I’m a social work student at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration. After working with people experiencing homelessness and mental illness last year, I wanted to learn more about preventative, proactive work around housing and the many interrelated pieces which are a part just communities. When I learned about SWOP, I saw a group of people committed to placemaking. I’m here to learn about placemaking and community organizing. 

Practically, as I’m an intern, I am at SWOP twice a week. I will support the work of SWOP through behind-the-scenes tasks – starting with working on writing about the work that is happening to both create an archive and spread the word and posting on social media to share events that are happening and opportunities to join.

-Laurel Bornman