ENGLEWOOD — A community organization is reviving vacant spaces in Englewood with interactive weekend programs aimed at neighborhood youth.
Teamwork Englewood — a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for neighbors through economic, educational and social opportunities — will offer three free community programs beginning Saturday for Englewood’s youth. The programs will be held at Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St., which was closed by the school district this summer.
Cecile DeMello, executive director for Teamwork Englewood, said the initiative showcases how Englewood natives are turning negative situations into positive, community-driven opportunities.
“I hope this city is seeing how, in Englewood, we are trying to be innovative and taking some of the vacant spaces in our community and using them for the needs of our community in creative ways,” DeMello said. “We’re thinking about how spaces can meet the unique needs of our community and how there can be unique partnerships that can be built by leveraging city resources.”
Students can choose between three activities this fall: practicing yoga in The Yoga Fix, playing basketball in Englewood Bounce or engaging with their peers in the Connect the Blocks Leadership Program.
“All of our programs are allowing the young people of Englewood to be able to be around positive, supportive programming,” DeMello said. “Our programs supposer social-emotional learning for young people.”
Within the basketball program, for example, students can practice the art of a pick and roll while participating in restorative justice circles.
The goal is to create a space where the community’s youth can have fun and grow as individuals, DeMello said.
“We’re able to engage young people in some positive programming that can keep them out of trouble, help them to think about new careers and also build a sense of community,” DeMello said. “Our programs have brought young people together that may have never come together in a positive, facilitated way to build relationships across this community.”
For years, Teamwork Englewood hosted youth programs throughout neighborhood schools, DeMello said.
But when the pandemic hit, forcing students out of the hallways, the organization encountered a problem: engaging students.
Virtual programs weren’t strong in attendance, DeMello said. And the community group lacked a space that could accommodate a decent number of students while following social distancing protocols.
“Other youth providers in the community were facing the same challenges as us. They didn’t have big enough space and they were trying to avoid virtual programming,” DeMello said. “So, they said, ‘Well, what if we could just ask [Chicago Public Schools] if we could use some space at Harper High School?’”
Often touted as the oldest neighborhood school in Englewood, Harper closed its doors permanently June 30. The closure was part of a “phase out” of three neighboring high schools, including Hope and Robeson, to make way for a new STEM school in the area.
DeMello said she took charge.
The district had a history of renting out vacant spaces, like parking lots and auditoriums, to community organizers, DeMello said. She hoped the district would comply with the community’s needs and offer space for the youth in the neighborhood.
Her wish was granted.
Working with CPS’ Facilities Department, DeMello was able to secure space in the closed school for Teamwork Englewood and other community groups, such as GoodKidsMadCity. They have access to a few classrooms and the gymnasium.
Programs kicked off in the summer. This fall, DeMello said Teamwork Englewood is returning bigger and better.
“I’m thankful to the community partners for challenging Teamwork to figure out how we can make this space happen,” DeMello said. “I hope we can grow more momentum to even expand the space usage that we have at Harper.”
As the program continues to grow, DeMello hopes she can use more vacant spaces for more youth-driven programming, she said.
“Even though it’s cool that this is happening inside of this closed school, we’re really just advocating for more youth-based programs in spaces like Englewood, period,” DeMello said.
Teamwork Englewood’s programs kick off Saturday. Families can still register their children to join one of the many programs.
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