AUSTIN — It may currently be the peak of midwinter, but neighborhood organizations are already gearing up for their summer programming.
And as small organizations plan out their summer schedules with musical performances, mentorship programs, volunteer days and pop-ups, the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities is searching for partner organizations whose summer events would benefit from extra funding courtesy of its Chicago Fund.
The fund is allocating $1 million in grants to help neighborhood organizations working to improve public safety to plan summer events that will foster a sense of neighborly kinship and improve community engagement. The grants range from $1,000 to $10,000 and will prioritize 21 communities on the South and West sides that have been hit hardest by gun violence.
Organizations planning summer events around public safety are encouraged by the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities to apply for the grants. Interested organizations can apply online until Feb. 14, and grantees will be selected by April 1.
“We know it takes a combination of intervention strategies working together to reduce gun violence in our city,” said Anna Lee, director of community impact at The Chicago Community Trust and member of of the partnership. “We hope to inspire even more community partners to join efforts to promote safety and peace in our communities.”
Last year, 181 organizations were funded, including many on the West Side. Those organizations put on a wide range of events and summer programs that help address some of the root causes of violence out west.
Like the Homecoming Summer Fair, a series of two outreach events put on by the West Side Justice Center, 601 S. California Ave., with the support of a grant from the Chicago Fund. The fair helps reduce recidivism by supporting formerly incarcerated people to rebuild their lives outside of prison.
“Returning from prison after 20 years has been nearly as traumatizing as being in prison for that length of time,” said Monica Cosby, a community organizer for the West Side Justice Center.
“Trying to rebuild my life and reunite with my family after my long absence from their lives, and to keep my sense of self that I’d managed to reclaim while in prison has been daunting and difficult. The community to which I returned was so different; after 16 months out of prison, I am still struck by how much changed during the time I was incarcerated.”
At the fair, formerly incarcerated individuals can access a multitude of resources all in one place, like headshots, haircuts, child care, resume preparation, job readiness services and legal aid. With these resources, the West Side Justice Center hopes to begin to alleviate some of the long-term mental, emotional and economic impacts of incarceration for returning citizens.
The West Side Media Project used its grant to sponsor the Summer Guidance Project, a workshop series to provide mentorship for up to 20 boys in Garfield Park and Austin. This Saturday morning series ran over two months to help give middle schoolers in the area a positive male role model to look up to.
Marillac St. Vincent Social Center also received the grant in previous years, which they used to host the East Garfield Park Youth Summit. The annual summit consisted of a rotating series of workshops on fitness, leadership, arts, sports, and health for approximately 150 middle schoolers and high school students. The summit also served to open a conversation about violence in the neighborhood so that young people could participate in creating solutions for preventing violence in collaboration between different neighborhood groups.
This event was organized by youth leaders to help young people in Garfield Park to see themselves as active contributors to the neighborhood and agents of change for building a more peaceful community. Young people working on the project planned out the layout for the event space, built an agenda and budget, marketed the event, selected guest speakers and planned performances for the summit.
“The day-long event ends with the youth making commitments about what they personally will due to end violence,” said Chief Operating Officer Maureen Hallagan.
The Kells Park Community Council was able to stretch their $7,000 grant across multiple event series last summer. One of their biggest was a back to school block club party where they passed out bookbags full of school supplies, calculators and first aid kits so students would be ready for the school year.
The volunteer-run group showed movies in the park, hosted a series of basketball games for the kids and did events at local community gardens. They also ran a campaign to take back street corners that had become hot spots for crime. On five different corners, the group set up shop and played music and handed out hotdogs, hamburgers and sandwiches so their presence would push out the drug dealers and make the community safer.
“If you keep doing positive things, it cuts down on the gun violence, it cuts down on the drug dealing,” said Cornelia Hailey-Gamble, a member of the council.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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