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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Award-Winning Bronzeville Incubator Looking For Community Day Volunteers

Recently recognized for their community building work, the team behind Creative Grounds at Overton hopes to recreate their success with another shuttered school site on the West Side.

Anthony Overton School, 221 E. 49th, Perkins & Will, 1961
Lee Bey

GRAND BOULEVARD — The Overton Center for Excellence is looking for volunteers for its remaining Community Days.

Volunteers are needed for setup, breakdown and vendor/participant assistance. They’re also looking for vendors interested in participating in the monthly event, which allows neighbors to connect while learning about available resources and enjoying live entertainment. People are invited to sign up for a volunteer shift here or fill out a vendor form here.

The Overton Center for Excellence, 4927 S. Indiana Ave., was among several honorees recognized for their community initiatives at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards in June.

“We got the call in April. We were really excited,” said Borderless Studio Co-Lead Paola Aquirre, who heads the Creative Grounds at Overton Incubator.

Aquirre and her team spent weeks creating a video presentation for the awards ceremony to tell the story of the closed elementary school, which they transformed into vibrant community hub.

The incubator recently launched a nonprofit arm, which will allow them to fundraise for future programming. With the award, they were able to hire two part-time workers from the neighborhood to help with this summer’s Community Days.

Credit: Provided.
Paola Aquirre (c) poses for a photo with the Creative Grounds at Overton team after being honored at LISC’s Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards in June.

This season’s theme is “reunion,” a way of welcoming community members back after the pandemic forced organizers to cancel or limit programs in 2020 and 2021.

Aquirre said this year’s turnout has been good, with more than 50 or so visitors stopping by to check out the garden, watch a basketball game or lend their talents to art projects.

The success of Creative Grounds at Overton has opened the door for other opportunities to turn abandoned schools into thriving community spaces; the team hopes to do the same for Emett Elementary, an Austin grade school closed by the city in 2014.

Efforts are underway to renovate the main building and the annex, formerly home to Overton’s Child-Parent Center. Those projects are expected to cost $17 million.

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