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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

East 79th Street Gets A Makeover With The Help Of ‘One Summer Chicago’ Jobs Program

“This is what it's all about, showing people that we still have pride in our community by pulling our young people in so that they understand that it's important that they buy in,” Ald. Michelle Harris said.

Youth working for One Summer Chicago repainted a closed 79th business as part of a beautification effort.
Lee Edwards/ Block Club Chicago
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CHATHAM — The old Leon’s Bar-B-Que on 79th Street got a new look this week thanks to a crew of neighborhood residents and high school students. 

At the shuttered Leon’s, 1640 E. 79th St. in the shadow of the Regal Theater, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) joined 40 people Wednesday working for the One Summer Chicago program to add a new coat of paint and pick up trash in the area. 

Harris was quick to encourage people passing by to pick up a paintbrush and join in.

“This is what it’s all about, showing people that we still have pride in our community by pulling our young people in so that they understand that it’s important that they buy in,” Harris said.

Credit: Lee Edwards/ Block Club Chicago.
Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) paints a wall in Chatham Wednesday.

“When you have that commitment to your community no matter what your age is, people buy in that you love your community and you’re proud of your community.”

The old Leon’s Bar-B-Q was selected to help show nearby tenants how to transform communities, according to Harris.

“We picked this location because this is a corridor where we are having a lot of different issues going on because this is the rental district,” she said. “We are trying to change negative behavior …cleaning up something, making it look amazing.”

One Summer Chicago is a summer jobs initiative for Chicago teens and young adults ages 14 to 24.

Participants typically work 20-25 hours a week, taking positions with the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, at Chicago Public Library branches, After School Matters and city departments.  

Evelyn Benitez, youth services coordinator for One Summer Chicago and the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, said Harris reached out to make the beautification day possible. Her group usually paints viaducts, she said. 

“There have been opportunities where community has come together with elected officials,” Benitez said. “We painted murals, we worked on painting homes, etc. Just to be a good steward of One Summer Chicago, we, of course, don’t say no.”

Tionte Kennedy, 17, a Pullman resident and recent graduate of Chatham Academy High School, is wrapping up her second summer with the One Summer Chicago program. 

“We feel comfortable coming to work because we are working with people our age and it’s a good environment to be in,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to really hurt my heart [when the summer ends] so I’ve been recording memories with me and my friends.”

Credit: Lee Edwards/ Block Club Chicago
Tionte Kennedy and Evelyn Benitez hold paint brushes in Chatham Wednesday.

Since the creation of One Summer Chicago, the program has grown from serving 14,000 youth to 32,000 youth this summer. 

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