Spotlight On: Little Village Neighborhood Network

Communities across the Chicago region area are faced with interrelated problems that no one agency or leader can address effectively. Add to that state and federal funding issues and policies that harm the communities most in need of resources, and it makes a the daily reality residents face that much hard to navigate. Through the Neighborhood Network Initiative, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago is working with leaders and institutions in ten communities in the Chicago area to come together to strategize, plan and work to reverse the negative impact of these complex issues. This work looks different in every community, but at a basic level, it gets everyone rowing in the same direction. The hope is that this will amplify the impact of every agency and create space for leaders to be proactive instead of reactive, and will then lead to stronger more meaningful collaborations.

Some of this work is taking place in the Northeast part of Chicago’s Little Village community, also known as Marshall Square (Marshall Square is bound north-south by 16th and 31st Streets and east-west by Western and Kedzie Avenues). If you haven’t heard of Marshall Square you wouldn’t be alone, but community leaders have looked to their historical roots to set themselves apart and call attention to the work they are engaged in. The Marshall Square Resource Network (MSRN) has been in existence for seven years, originally coming together to pool resources and support each other during the tough financial climate during the economic downturn. This spirit and determination made the MSRN an ideal partner in the Neighborhood Network Initiative. Not only are partner agencies committed to more effectively delivering services and to addressing the root causes of the issues the community faces, but they are committed to developing and nurturing community leaders who are the foundation and pillars of Marshall Square. As such, leadership and community development in Marshall Square means a commitment to supporting children, families, residents and staff of Marshall Square based agencies as they deal and cope with trauma and adversity, individually or at the community level.

The spirit of the MSRN is one of collaboration and partnership, the IL ACE Response Collaborative, the Support School Community Initiative, the Peaceful lives, Peaceful Communities Initiative and the Wild Marshall Initiative are collaborative projects that are providing much needed outlets and resources to address deeply rooted issues such as domestic abuse, gang violence, obesity and depression.

All the hard work has not gone unnoticed: current Latinos Progresando Chief Strategy Officer and former United Way team member, Sofia Mendez, was honored at Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia’s Second Annual Women’s History Month Reception for her extensive work on behalf of families and parents in Chicago’s southwest side. Sofia was awarded with the Linda Coronado Public Service Award for her community engagement work and tireless advocacy on behalf of the residents of Pilsen, Little Village and Marshall Square. Sofia has made it her mission to develop other parent leaders so that they can advocate on behalf of their children and community. She has been vital to the development of the MSRN’s Parent leadership Initiative, a partnership between Network Seven (CPS), the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Latinos Progresando.

Through the Supportive School Communities initiative, parent leaders have facilitated discussions on the five social and emotional learning (SEL) core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness at four Marshall Square community schools: Charles G. Hammond Elementary School, John Spry Community School, Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, and now Gerald Delgado Kanoon Magnet School. The initiative’s goal is to develop parent leaders that can educate their school communities about the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL), not only in the classroom but in the home.

The MSRN also recently announced the launch of a community garden at Charles G. Hammond Elementary School. The community garden was made possible through a partnership between Open Center for the Arts, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Hammond Elementary and Latinos Progresando. Partner organizations hosted a Family Volunteer Day on April 8, during which over one hundred community members began planting in the garden, painting garden beds, and signed up to grow vegetables. Building community gardens is part of The Marshall Square Resource Network’s health initiative, providing families with access to fresh homegrown produce, as well as peaceful healing spaces for mindfulness meditation, healing, reflection, reading, and community conversations on social-emotional learning, self-care, mental health first aid and other community issues.

On April 4, Latinos Progresando’s Chief Executive Officer, Luis Gutierrez was honored with the Hispanicize 2017 Positive Impact Award for his nearly 20 years of unrelenting commitment to community revitalization. Luis has built the largest Latino-led immigration legal services program in the State of Illinois, through which thousands of immigrants from 40 countries around the world have been equipped with the tools they need to achieve economic security and become leaders through civic engagement.

As part of the Peaceful Lives, Peaceful Communities initiative, Teatro Americano youth participated in workshops on healthy conflict resolution and supportive relationship building led by Wanda DeCwikiel-Avila, Executive Director of La Familia Unida, and chair of the MSRN Peace committee. This initiative challenges the normalization of violence in relationships with an innovative approach that combines education about healthy relationships with theater exercises.

While there is still so much work to do to make Marshall Square the safe, peaceful and healthy community its residents and families deserve, we also celebrate the amazing progress and a few of the community leaders who are instrumental in this work. United Way of Metropolitan Chicago is committed to supporting the work of the MSRN and of all the Neighborhood Network Initiative partners.

Blog submitted by: Jaime Arteaga, Community Engagement Manager, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

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