Though United Way is a leader within the nonprofit sector, when it comes to our work in community, we’re happy to ride shotgun and let residents take the reigns. Where they lead us, we follow, offering support and guidance to tackle the problems they prioritize.
We take this approach, because, too often, the voices that deserve to be heard in a community are left out of conversations. When it comes to discussions about change and revitalization, this should never be the case.
Pinpointing residents’ most pressing needs
In Cicero, a working class community with residents who are predominantly of Mexican descent, the Cicero Community Collaborative is charting the course as the lead agency in the Cicero Neighborhood Network.
“As simple as it sounds, they are genuinely working together for the good of the community, which is difficult to do,” says Jackie Rosa, a community engagement manager for United Way of Metro Chicago.
With financial and technical support from United Way, 23 partner organizations — which include nonprofit service providers, schools, local government officials and law enforcement — reached out to more than 700 residents to assess the challenges they face.
Using their feedback, the Network pinpointed the top issues to be addressed and began creating strategies to resolve them.
In a neighborhood where 12 percent of roughly 84,000 residents are unemployed and approximately 7 percent hold a college degree, the Network created goals to help increase safety, develop the parents and guardians’ leadership skills and help 10,000 children and youth achieve academic and developmental milestones.
Tackling challenges together
Since the Network’s launch in 2016, the Town of Cicero has taken great strides to fulfill those goals.
It’s ensured 10,000 kids under the age of 5 have a better head start in school by connecting them to pre-K and all-day kindergarten programs and educating their parents about the importance of early childhood development.
To guide local teens in the right direction, the Network includes Corazon Community Services’ Fuerza Center and Inner City Impact, that offer after-school activities to foster a greater sense of involvement and direction.
Through school-based programs, the Network is caring for residents’ emotional and mental well-being. Its worked with partner schools to place social workers and school-based counselors in schools. Those services, in addition to a new student health ambassador program, are reducing discipline reports and improving classroom performance by addressing outside issues that students may be struggling with, like fights with friends, violence in their homes and poverty.
Community safety is a top priority, too. Local parents volunteer to patrol school zones, ensuring student safety, and Cicero’s police department recently implemented trauma trainings and a peer support group to ensure officers have the resources they need to do their best work.
Learn more about the Cicero Neighborhood Network’s work to build a stronger, more resilience community!