On a hot July day, leaders of Claretian Associates, a housing agency serving South Chicago, took a stroll around the neighborhood, taking in the success they and their community partners have sowed over the years.
In a region that receives limited city investment and experiences high rates of unemployment and violence, community leaders have joined forces as the South Chicago Neighborhood Network. Through focused collaboration, the coalition of two dozen social service agencies, schools, hospitals and residents are growing a stronger community and supporting a culture of care for those who have been impacted by trauma. Together, they’re planting the seeds for a thriving community.
Ensuring neighbors are safe
Claretian Associates, the lead agency in the Network, helps lead the charge. With Executive Director Angela Hurlock, Senior Program Director Dr. Jacqueline Samuel and Program Director Graciela Robledo at the helm, the housing agency addresses one of residents’ most pressing needs — affordable housing.
Since 1991, Claretian Associates has worked with the South Chicago community to open 53 apartment units for seniors and 137 affordable housing units for individuals and families.
The other community partners are invested in promoting neighborhood safety, too. The members of the Neighborhood Network host peace circles, facilitate trauma-informed trainings and offer counseling programs. They’ve also worked to develop a safe corridor on 91st Street, a feature that allows local families to safely access schools, libraries and community centers.
Engaging youth in meaningful ways
When the streets are safe, youth are able to access opportunities and activities that enhance their lives and allow them to enjoy their community.
At the corner of Houston Avenue and 91st Street, the YMCA is alive with summer programs. There, Hoops in the Hood coordinator William Pettis leads a three-day basketball camp for local youth.
A crucial program to get kids off the streets, the camp provides a safe space for kids to play during the summer months. It also serves as an outlet for players to build personal relationships and channel their emotions.
Mr. Pettis and his staff play a critical role in the program’s retention rates, and enrollment is as high as ever. This year, several program participants were connected to summer jobs, too.
A pillar of the community, the YMCA also provides a space for creativity.
Through the “Story Squad,” Grant Buhr tutors youth in audio production, which they use to create audio, performance or visual stories. Through storytelling, they are provided a platform to amplify their voices and share their experiences.
On the other side of Houston Avenue, SkyArt offers visual arts programming for youth from 7 to 24 years old. SkyArt serves more than 500 kids a year, and the organization is expanding its staff as it builds out a ceramics program and a digital art lab.
Establishing spaces to engage
In order to learn and grow, residents must also have safe places to meet.
Across 91st Street at the Public Library, wide bookshelves hold pathways to new worlds and endless information. In the height of the summer, the library is humming with a quiet energy. Young people sit at a bank of computers, browsing the web.
Just a few blocks over, The Laquan McDonald Community Garden sits at the very center of the South Chicago neighborhood, nestled in a lot at the corner of 85th and Escanaba.
Gregory Bratton, an urban farmer, can usually be found tending to the potato and onion plants. He’s always prepared to show off the fruits of his labor to local youth walking by, especially the garden’s banana tree.
Like Mr. Bratton, the South Chicago Neighborhood Network knows the importance of nurturing the things you hope to blossom — including a growing community.