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LSNA Celebrates a Half-Century of Achievement

Fifty years ago, well before there was a LISC Chicago and at least a few years before a federal Civil Rights Act or a Department of Housing and Urban Development, a small but dedicated group of neighbors in Logan Square set out to save their community from urban blight.

Beginning with almost no political clout and even fewer tools – save their combined voices and ability to organize – the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) went on to become one of Chicago’s, and America’s, most accomplished community development organizations.

In a bit of in-your-face organizing during the 50th annual LSNA Congress, Philip Hampton, Chicago Public Schools chief of community relations, is pressed into signing a poster-sized petition asking for reconsideration of student transfers out of Ames Middle School in Logan Square.

Deborah McCoy, LSNA

On May 15, some 1,572 LSNA supporters filled the auditorium of Kelvyn Park High School to celebrate the organization’s many accomplishments and to honor those homegrown leaders who made it happen.

“You are the heroes who have made Logan Square a wonderful neighborhood in which to live, work, learn and grow,” welcomed Nancy Aardema, who for more than a decade has led the association as its executive director.

LISC Help Credited

Among those honored at the golden anniversary session of LSNA’s annual membership Congress was Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago and a longtime fan of how LSNA does business.

Vasquez joined LISC Chicago in 2003, and one of her first projects as program officer of its New Communities Program was to work with LSNA on its New Communities Program quality-of-life plan. Two things, she remembers, became immediately apparent: 1) LSNA for years had been doing its own comprehensive planning, calling it their Holistic Plan; and 2) having carefully targeted what it wants to accomplish, LSNA has a knack for forging key partnerships and getting things done.

Susana Vasquez (right), executive director of LISC Chicago, received recognition during the ceremony, as did Amy Crowther (center) board chair of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. Presenting their honors is Ellen Ray, board chair of Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Deborah McCoy

“What LISC and NCP helped them to do,” Vasquez said, “was enhance the work they were already doing and move it to scale, with projects like the Green Exchange, Elev8 in the schools, and Zapata Apartments."

Indeed, Vasquez and Joy Aruguete, executive director of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. of neighboring Humboldt Park, were specifically thanked for partnering with LSNA on the Zapata affordable housing, which is bringing 61 affordable rentals to Armitage Avenue.

In presenting the citation to Vasquez, Ellen Ray, president of LSNA’s governing board, declared: “Our latest estimate is that NCP has leveraged over $100 million in investment in Logan Square over the last 10 years.”

Heroes Honored

Many other local leaders spoke or were honored at the celebration, which was punctuated by on-stage entertainments from local youth, ranging from a rap band to ballerinas to traditional Mexican folk dancers. The keynote was delivered by Miguel del Valle, a former state senator, city clerk and mayoral candidate.

“All the activities that have taken place, the schools that have been constructed, the additions that have been built, all the programs – none would be here today if it were not for you!” thundered del Valle.

Former state senator, city clerk and mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle delivered the evening's keynote address, during which he resoundingly praised LSNA and its partners for their bricks-and-mortar projects as well as other community-building activities. “None would be here today if it were not for you!” he thundered.

Deborah McCoy

At least four city alderman attended, including Rey Colon (35th), who once served as LSNA board chair and who read a special declaration by the full City Council honoring LSNA’s 50 years of achievement.

Perhaps the most applause was garnered by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), when he announced sponsorship of a “Keep Chicago Renting” ordinance designed to protect renters when landlords lose their buildings to foreclosure. Chicago is expected to lose more than 17,000 rental units to foreclosure this year, a scourge felt sharply in Logan Square, where working-class Hispanics are being evicted in large numbers.

“We have to say to these banks that the neighborhood is ours, not theirs,” Moreno declared to wild applause.

The most emotional speech was delivered by Yaneth Cordova, a junior at Schurz High School, who described what it’s like, as a teenager, when you learn you’re “undocumented,” ineligible for a driver’s license or college scholarships and at risk of deportation.

“I will not give up,” she said, urging support for a federal Dream Act that would grant conditional amnesty to students. “Just because we don’t have a Social Security number doesn’t mean we don’t have a future.”

Living Legacy
Also honored was LSNA’s nationally recognized work in establishing “community-based” public schools where parents get involved as teachers’ aides, earning their GEDs and sometimes advancing to college-level courses so they can become teachers themselves.

Under the leadership of LSNA staffer Joanna Brown, much has been accomplished by developing working partnerships with principals and teachers at five neighborhood schools. But there was a demonstration, of sorts, at the anniversary celebration that LSNA still knows how to twist arms and bring the heat.

Schurz High School junior Yaneth Cordova delivered an emotional, first-hand account of what it's like to be undocumented--unable to get a driver's license or college scholarships and at risk of being deported.

Deborah McCoy, LSNA

Marilyn Adames, a community schools activist, explained to the crowd that Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard couldn’t attend for family reasons and instead introduced Philip Hampton, the school system’s chief of community relations.

Once he climbed on stage, Adames proceeded to remind the audience that the school board, without community input, recently ordered major changes at Ames Middle School – where LISC supports extended-day programs and a health center – changes that will see hundreds of students transferred elsewhere. 

“So my question for you is,” Adames braced a taken-back Hampton, “can you help us set up a meeting with Mr. Brizard before mid-July?” Then, while hundreds cheered, she even got Hampton to sign a poster-sized petition asking for reconsideration of the Ames student transfers.

So on it goes: 50 years and counting of success borne of comprehensive planning, strategic partnering, and not a little old-fashioned – sometimes in-your-face – organizing.      

For More Information: Susan Yanun, LSNA,

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Posted in Logan Square


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