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IMAN’s Free Food Pantry In Englewood, Big Marsh Park’s Environmental Center Snag Community Development Awards

The projects, alongside others like the North Lawndale Employment Network campus and the Casa Veracruz housing preservation effort, won Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards this year.

From left: Alia Bilal, Jamil Wright and Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network accept the healthy community award for IMAN's Food and Wellness Center at Wednesday's Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards ceremony.
Nicee Martin Photo & Design
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SOUTH SHORE — Organizers, architects, designers and funders of community-led projects gathered recently on the South Side to celebrate work that is making communities healthier.

Winners of the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, which honor projects and people that contribute to “building healthier neighborhoods in the Chicago metropolitan area,” were announced last week at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive. This year’s awards were themed around “redesigning legacy.”

“This is, as they say, the Academy Awards of community development,” said Meghan Harte, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago, which organized the awards for the 28th year.

“Everyone’s working so hard and doing great work, but to get recognized doesn’t happen a lot. This is an opportunity for that.”

Credit: Kenneth Johnson/Greater Chicago Food Depository
Ahmad Jitan, a community organizer for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), helps a man select groceries at IMAN’s new Food and Wellness Center.

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Food and Wellness Center, which opened in July 2021 and brought free groceries to local residents, won the healthy community award. It’s also served as a source of emergency food distributions, COVID-19 testing and vaccine drives during the pandemic.

The center not only provides nutrition, but puts residents “in conversation with the organizers and activists that are trying to radically transform the larger neighborhood,” IMAN founder Rami Nashashibi said. “It’s not about just one service; [it’s connected to] a greater vision of what true community transformation could look and feel like.”

The food and wellness center is in a “symbiotic relationship” with other aspects of the Go Green on Racine transformation project, like the recently opened Englewood Fresh Market, a push to revive the closed Racine Green Line stop.

The initiative aims to provide residents with resources as a way to improve health outcomes while addressing violence and poverty.

Resident-led projects like Go Green on Racine are sorely needed in neighborhoods like Englewood after decades of “total abandonment” by local leaders, Nashashibi said. But it’s important that governments also make sustained investments in institutions that are “working with and for the community,” he said.

“The legacy of … community development must be part of the larger movement for socioeconomic [and] racial justice and reparations in America,” Nashashibi said.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
The exterior of the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, as seen under construction in October 2020.

The Ford Calumet Environmental Center won the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation’s award for architectural excellence in community design.

The environmental center, which opened to the public in September, set a “precedent for a new, sustainable future throughout the Calumet Region,” event organizers said. It’s in Big Marsh Park, a rehabbed industrial brownfield that’s the Park District’s largest natural site.

The center features an exhibit on the history of the park land that reflects on the Anishinaabe people as the original inhabitants of the land that would become Chicago; the region’s industrial history; the Chicagoans who inhabit the neighborhoods surrounding Big Marsh Park; and neighbors’ activism in numerous fields.

It also hosts programs that encourage residents to engage with nature, with information on native plants, animals and habitats.

The Altgeld Family Resource Center, 955 E. 131st St. in Riverdale, won second place for the Driehaus Foundation award. The building includes a Chicago Public Library branch, a child care center and a community center in Altgeld Gardens.

Two Near West Side projects — the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois foster home at 1133 W. 13th St. and the 62-unit McCrory Senior Apartments at 1639 W. Washington Blvd. — won the third-place award.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Riders on the annual We Keep You Rollin’ Legacy Bike Ride gather outside the Altgeld Family Resource Center in July 2021 before taking a tour of the building.

Two North Lawndale projects with ties to each other also won neighborhood development awards Wednesday.

The North Lawndale Employment Network’s 20,000-square-foot campus allowed the group to double its capacity and consolidate its programs when it opened in March. It also hosts the Beelove Cafe, which is staffed by employment program participants and offers products made by local entrepreneurs.

North Lawndale: The Next Chapter is a quality-of-life plan that aims to unite homeowners, improve safety and transportation, address health inequalities and improve access to high-quality education and recreational programs.

The quality-of-life plan, in progress since 2016, won the outstanding community plan award. The employment campus, which was included in the plan, won the outstanding nonprofit neighborhood real estate development award.

“Today, North Lawndale and its incredible residents got the respect that we are due,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.

Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club
The campus of the North Lawndale Employment Network.

Dalia Aragon, who supports family-owned businesses and housing work for development and preservation of affordable housing in Albany Park, won the emerging leader award. She founded the nonprofit Israel’s Gifts of Hope, which supports families affected by gun violence, in 2016 to honor her brother, Israel, who was fatally shot in Albany Park.

This year’s physical awards were created by Project Fire, a program of Firebird Community Arts that uses glassblowing and ceramics to help young people understand how their minds, bodies and emotions cope with trauma. Project Fire artists are also working to create and install artistic markers honoring the 38 people killed during the 1919 race riots.

All of the winners:

  • Inner-City Muslim Action Network Food and Wellness Center, 1216 W. 63rd St. in Englewood.
  • Ford Calumet Environmental Center at Big Marsh Park, 11559 S. Stony Island Ave. in South Deering.
  • North Lawndale Employment Network Campus, 1111 S. Homan Ave.
  • Culver’s, 11050 S. Doty Ave. in Pullman.
  • Creative Grounds at the Anthony Overton Incubator, 221 E. 49th St. in Grand Boulevard.
  • Casa Veracruz, a 15-building affordable housing preservation project in Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards.
  • The Empowering Communities for Public Safety Ordinance, passed last July after a years-long push from community activists to give Chicago residents more oversight and control over the Police Department.
  • North Lawndale: The Next Chapter, a quality-of-life plan led by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council.
  • Dalia Aragon, an Albany Park resident and staffer with the North River Commission.

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