Representatives from West Side United, Metropolitan Family Services and Erie Neighborhood House holding a $1 million check that will go towards job development. Credit: Trey Arline/Block Club Chicago

GARFIELD PARK — Three local nonprofits are the recipients of $1 million in job development grants from UPS to address health inequities on the South and West sides.

Representatives from West Side United, Metropolitan Family Services and Erie Neighborhood House gathered Tuesday at Ascension Saint Mary, 2233 W. Division St., to accept the grants. West Side United will receive $500,000, Metropolitan Family Services will get $350,000 and $150,000 will go to Erie Neighborhood House.

The grants will go toward employment training and support for 300 people with the ultimate goal of helping them secure jobs with benefits at UPS and other Chicago companies, according to the UPS Foundation, the charitable arm of the delivery and logistics company.

Officials spoke Tuesday about the critical need for employment opportunities in disinvested communities that would provide residents with a steady income, benefits and access to health care, in turn extending their lives and closing the health gap.

Issues disproportionately affecting the health of Black communities in Chicago — and made worse by systemic racism and disinvestment — include diabetes-related ailments, homicide, HIV and opioids. Black Chicagoans live 9.2 fewer years than non-Black people in the city, according to a report by the city’s public health department.

“Black and Brown communities take the brunt of economic and social disparities,” said UPS Foundation President Nikki Clifton. “The statistics in the city are alarming, but I don’t think they’re unsolvable. As a Black woman leading one of the largest corporate foundations in the country, I feel as though this is my calling to support the people who need it the most.”

Unemployment doubled for Black women during the pandemic, and in the early days of the pandemic, Black people accounted for 70% of COVID deaths in the city — figures Clifton said were shocking but not surprising.

West Side United executive director Ayesha Jaco, who celebrated her 43rd birthday Tuesday, said her wish was to see another 40 years and for her children to do the same.

“We know that improving health equity is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Jaco said. “I want my children to blow out 82 birthday candles. We are honored to have UPS step in this space to create a better quality of life for people.”

As West Side United turns five years old, Jaco said the organization’s focus has progressed from cutting the life expectancy gap in half among West Siders to seeing it equal the life expectancy of the wealthiest Chicagoans.

West Garfield Park residents live to an average age of 69 compared to age 85 for people living in the Loop, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report.

Jaco said initiatives like the UPS Foundation grants, along with more developments such as the Sankofa Wellness Project in West Garfield Park and amenities like grocery stores, could improve the health of everyone in the area.

Sergio Rocha, an industrial engineering manager at UPS, said programs at Erie Neighborhood House helped him after he graduated from college.

Raised in West Town by a single mother from Guatemala, Rocha said he was not shocked to hear of the health gaps on the city’s South and West sides. He said he hopes the money given to Erie Neighborhood House and the other organizations will help close the gap.

“Growing up in Chicago, you see these disparities every single day,” Rocha said. “You see the reality of it in your own family and neighborhood. Making sure that I am making a difference in my community is important to me.”

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