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Volunteers Dig In on NeighborWorks Day

A little rain didn’t stop about 500 volunteers from painting, planting and mowing on Saturday, June 1, when several of LISC Chicago’s local partners pitched in at the annual NeighborWorks Day. By the time it was over, they'd spiffed up 115 homes on 10 blocks, planted nine community gardens, cleared eight vacant lots, and prepared an abandoned North Lawndale home for rehab.

Volunteers in Englewood display their gardening skills.

Ray Green

But it wasn’t all work. There also was food, fun and friendship – the latter being, perhaps, the most important result when neighbors work side-by-side, reinforcing each other’s commitment to building a stronger community.

“When you volunteer, you vote for the kind of community you want to live in,” said Ed Jacob, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, which for 26 years has managed the annual spring event.

This year was special because several of the participating city neighborhoods focused on blocks targeted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Micro-Market Recovery Program (MMRP). Launched two years ago by the city with the help of LISC, NHS and several other partners, it’s an effort to demonstrate how selected blocks hit hard by foreclosures can be turned around, laying the groundwork for a return of private investment.

The sites

Here are some highlights of 2013 NeighborWorks Day activity:
Auburn Gresham – Fences and porches were painted, and flowers planted, on the 7700 block of South Carpenter Street, where a newly-formed block club was looking for help. An impromptu “resource fair” followed with information on foreclosure prevention, home repair and retirement planning.

Belmont CraginSpanish Coalition for Housing also hosted a resource fair at Blackhawk Park, 2318 N. Lavergne Ave. Organizations provided information on programs for neighborhood building owners.  Representatives of the Illinois Attorney General’s office provided advice regarding mortgages; the Chicago Bilingual Apartment Owners Association presented on building management.

Back of the Yards – Due to wet conditions the dark and forbidding railroad viaduct at 2200 W. 47th St. did not get a planned “mural makeover.” Volunteers were to return to help artists convert the viaduct into a fitting gateway to the new Back of the Yards College Prep High School opening this fall.

Chicago Lawn/Gage Park residents and friends dig in on the 6000 and 6100 blocks of South Rockwell on NeighborWorks day.


ChathamCommunity Investment Corporation, Chatham Business Association, First InSite Realty and 5T Management joined residents in planting flowers and shrubs along the 8100 block of South Maryland Avenue in the neighborhood MMRP zone.

Chicago Lawn/Gage Park – The 6000 and 6100 blocks of South Rockwell Avenue got new sod and new gardens as NHS and LISC neighborhood network partner Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) continue to revitalize these MMRP target blocks.

Englewood – The northwest corner of 63rd and the Dan Ryan Expressway was a vacant eyesore … but it’s now an “Englewood Gateway” after a work-over by volunteers with R.A.G.E., Greater Englewood CDC and the LISC neighborhood network partner Teamwork Englewood.

North Lawndale – The 1300 block of South Christiana Avenue got its vacant lots cleaned and its community gardens restored while LISC neighborhood network partner Lawndale Christian Development Corporation (LCDC), assisted by Architecture for Humanity, demonstrated how it rehabs greystones in the area. Real Men Cook “manned” the grill.

Roseland – The 11600 block of South Ada Street, part of the West Pullman Micro-Market effort overseen by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, underwent “beautification” … followed by an NHS home improvement workshop at nearby Cooper Park.

A fence in Auburn Gresham gets a new paint job.

Leslie Adkins

West Humboldt Park - The 600 block of North Central Park Avenue, a key MMRP “gateway” block just north of the Garfield Park Conservatory, had its vacant lots cleaned and mowed,  porches of foreclosed buildings painted and its parkway trees mulched and ringed with flowers. NHS neighborhood director John Groene said the day also kicks off  he neighborhood’s weekly “sweep & greet” hours.

This year’s focus on MMRP areas was both strategic and psychological, according to MMRP Coordinator Jack Swenson. “There’s community building going on here,” he said. “It’s collective action and it’s a powerful way to get people to reengage with their neighborhoods.”

More information:  Stephanie Martel, NHS, 773-329-4104

Posted in Housing, Auburn Gresham, Back of the Yards, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale


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