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LISC Network Delivers for Healthy Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is tapping directly into LISC’s network of neighborhood groups for ideas on how to advance his administration’s ambitious Healthy Chicago agenda.

On June 12, that network showed why.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of public health, speaks with Claretian Associates' NCP Director Jackie Samuel. Behind them are LISC Chicago executive director Susana Vasquez CDPH's Erica Salem.

Gordon Walek

Some 50 community leaders – most from LISC Chicago's New Communities Program – delivered a 20-page set of policy recommendations to Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health.

The recommendations (see list below) are the fruit of a 10-week effort by a special committee representing the 16 New Communities plus their local partners on health issues.  More than 70 leaders – organized into three subcommittees – have been researching and brainstorming what can be done to make their communities healthier. 

Ultimately they settled on eight core recommendations on matters ranging from gun violence to alcohol and tobacco sales, from fresh food access to breast feeding. And there are indications the city will keep LISC’s local experts in the loop as the recommendations move toward implementation.

“The mayor and I knew from the start that we had to work with communities in a very meaningful way to transform and improve the health of our city,” Dr. Choucair told the assembled committee after its presentation. “One of the very first groups, when we started talking about how we can work with the neighborhoods, was the New Communities Program.”

NCP “gets” health
Helping the city identify opportunities for health interventions is a natural for the New Communities, seconded Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director.

Driver Sacha McLeod and helper Joel Casey are ready to weigh fruits and veggies aboard the Fresh Moves mobile produce market. LISC's health advisory committee has called for more traveling grocers and the city is talking to the CTA about converting additional buses. More info:

John McCarron

“When NCP agencies updated their quality-of-life plans in 2010, for most the highest priority was public health, broadly understood,” she said. “So our neighborhoods have a deep understanding of and commitment to public health. We knew we could be good partners getting the message across and coming up with innovative ideas. So we’ve activated our neighborhood partners, and their partners, and others who care about community health, in a way we haven’t before. We’re ready to use our local networks to impact community health.” 

The LISC committee did most of its work through three sub-committees, each one tackling four of the 12 priorities identified last fall when the Emanuel administration announced its Healthy Chicago agenda. About 70 individuals representing 30 organizations participated, with each subcommittee meeting at least five times.  

Dominique Williams, a LISC fellow on loan from the Civic Consulting Alliance, coordinated the project. She said each subcommittee developed just three core recommendations.

The recommendations
One subcommittee addressed adolescent health, HIV prevention, tobacco use and violence prevention. It was co-chaired by Jacqueline Samuel of South Chicago lead agency Claretian Associates and Ulises Zatarain of Pilsen lead agency The Resurrection Project.

“We’ve had a series of shootings over the past two years involving both high school and elementary students and it has really broken our hearts,” said Samuel in explaining her subcommittee’s No. 1 recommendation: a citywide fund that would make bridge loans to help local anti-violence programs get started or expand.

“The mayor and I knew from the start that we had to work with communities in a very meaningful way to transform and improve the health of our city,” Dr. Choucair told the assembled committee after its presentation. “One of the very first groups, when we started talking about how we can work with the neighborhoods, was the New Communities Program.”

Gordon Walek

Like other presenters, Samuel, the New Communities organizer in South Chicago, was able to cite pilot programs undertaken with NCP assistance that showed promise and deserve more resources.

“We were able to bring in CeaseFire to mediate street-level conflicts and to hire 30 Safe Passage watchers through CPS to make sure youth get to and from school safely,” she said. “But a challenge was funding. We’d win a government grant but sometimes the funds wouldn’t come as soon as needed. There’s a gap. Sometimes a program couldn’t start on time or we might have to lay off staff. So we propose to create a ‘bridge’ loan fund for organizations waiting for more permanent funding.”

The loans would simply cover the period between when a grant was announced and when the funds actually arrived, at which time the loan would be repaid. She suggested civic-minded financial institutions might be willing to participate and charge zero interest for short-term loans, sparing the city any direct expense.  

Another subcommittee took on healthcare access, cancer treatment access, communicable diseases and public health infrastructure. 

Co-chair Shaan Trotter of lead agency the Washington Park Consortium explained their neighborhood’s NCP quality-of-life plan contained several health-related recommendations … but implementation became the issue. So their sub-committee’s No. 1 recommendation, he said, would be for each aldermanic office to have a paid health coordinator.

“He or she would provide on-the-ground outreach and keep the aldermen informed on the community’s health needs,” said Tenisha Jones of Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., the lead agency for both NCP and LISC Chicago’s Elev8 program, which has brought health clinics and wellness programs to local schools.

The third subcommittee studied maternal care, healthy homes, heart disease and stroke as well as obesity.

One of their recommendations is for all city buildings to provide rooms for breastfeeding, as is required of state buildings. “The city could set an example for private employers,” said Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian Associates. She reminded all that breast-fed children have lower rates of obesity and other health problems, and that one goal of Healthy Chicago is to get more low-income moms to breast-feed their babies for the first six months.

On the move
Hurlock noted that Mayor Emanuel recently announced a “win” having to do with another of her subcommittee’s recommendations:  make it easier for mobile food vendors – especially those selling healthy foods – to get city licenses and go into business.  The mayor recently announced that federal funds have been obtained to launch a second “Fresh Moves” bus, which will enable that nonprofit to begin selling its fresh fruits and vegetables in South Side neighborhoods in addition to its West Side routes.

Indeed, deputy health commissioner Erica Salem, who is coordinating Healthy Chicago for Commissioner Choucair, said she has been in contact with the mayor’s office to encourage the Chicago Transit Authority to provide additional surplus-but-serviceable buses as needed.

It’s this kind of community-oriented, inter-agency cooperation, according to LISC’s Vasquez, that will enable the city to implement Healthy Chicago even though resources are tight and – with state and federal cuts looming – about to get tighter.

“There are constraints on budgets and on time,” said Vasquez. “But we have proved time and time again that when you put smart neighborhood people to work on a difficult task, the resources and the innovative solutions will be found.”

Dr. Choucair also hinted funding might be available for innovative ideas. “We do have flexibility over some of those dollars,” he said of the DPH budget. “The mayor and I are all about shaking up the status quo. We need to hear from the community on how to do that.”

More information: Chris Brown at

Posted in Health, Auburn Gresham, Pilsen, South Chicago


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